By 2017 Youth Education Summit Alumni Gianna Guzzo, Brent Hinchcliff, Simon Sefzik, Peter Leonard and Emily Rassmussen
On Monday, July 24, 46 students from 35 different states embarked on a weeklong journey to Washington, D.C., for the 2017 National NRA Youth Education Summit (Y.E.S.). Beginning with introductions and icebreaker activities on that first day and continuing with teamwork on formal debates and discussions of current events throughout the week, participants met and built relationships with peers from around the country.
As the group took in the inspiring sights around the D.C. area, the program brought history textbooks to life and encouraged students to explore their interests in the military, politics and the shooting sports. From museum visits and meeting with a congressman to honoring the fallen at Arlington National Cemetery and shooting at the NRA Range, the week’s activities centered around these common themes of history, politics, military and shooting.
Every experience during Y.E.S. connected to history in some way. The NRA National Firearms Museum featured weapons from wars and other impactful periods in America’s past. The federal government branches the students visited have preserved Americans’ rights and freedoms since the establishment of the Constitution. Memorials reminded everyone of the greatest leaders, heroes and defenders of freedom in American history.
An important part of American’s freedom is her democracy. During the summit, students got a firsthand look at the institutions and procedures involved in the democratic process and American politics. They met with Congressman Jeff Duncan of South Carolina who spoke about the importance of the Second Amendment and continued by sharing encouraging words with the students and answering a few questions. They toured the U.S. Capitol—including a stop in the House Gallery—visited the Supreme Court and explored the National Archives where they saw the Constitution, Declaration of Independence and Bill of Rights. A current events discussion and a formal debate provided the opportunity for the students to engage in the political process by discussing relevant and timely topics.
The military theme also wove through many of the week’s events and experiences. The National Museum of the Marine Corps immersed the students in that branch’s history before the group honored its members at the Iwo Jima Memorial. On the last day of the summit, a visit to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery provided the opportunity to honor all of the servicemen and women who paid the ultimate price for Americans’ freedom and liberty.
While some participants came to Y.E.S. with little to no experience with shooting, many brought with them a background in and enthusiasm for the shooting sports. Everyone had the chance to shoot at the NRA Range after learning how the NRA works to promote firearms safety and education through variety of different programs. Students left their visit to NRA Headquarters with the tools to bring these programs back to their own communities. All the Y.E.S. students, regardless of their familiarity with firearms, are patriots and protectors of the Constitution. This program has empowered them to go out into the world with each other’s support to preserve the rights and liberty granted to every American citizen. The students of Y.E.S. will Lead the Legacy of freedom into the next generation. – GIANNA GUZZO (NY)
From the moment that the airplane began its approach to Reagan International Airport, everything for which this nation has struggled lay before my eyes. With a glimpse of the Washington Monument—standing tall above the rest of the city—through the small window port, I was struck anew with wonder at what great things had been accomplished in this one city, the capital of the United States. Many world-changing decisions were made right here, and now myself and 45 other Y.E.S. participants would walk the same paths that great American and world leaders have for hundreds of years.
The NRA National Firearms Museum provided our first close-up encounter of history in the Washington, D.C., area. Walking through the softly glowing corridors, each turn revealed a new room and a new realm of firearm ingenuity. Students who already had a strong interest in and knowledge of firearms history shared their passion with others, creating their own mini-tours of the collection. From old flintlocks and a rifle used by John Wayne in filming, to the types of firearms used by our servicemen and women today, we watched the evolution of firearms unfold before us.
The next day’s activities continued to awe and inspire. The U.S. Capitol building was one of the most impressive sights of the week. We witnessed the Statue of Freedom, perched high above us atop the dome and standing as a reminder that Americans are a free people. The huge scale of the ornate building truly represents the importance and power of what takes place inside—the passage of legislation to protect the nation’s citizens and their personal rights and liberties. Sitting in the House Chamber and watching representatives speak on various issues, we observed the political struggle that Congress goes through every day. “It is amazing to think,” remarked Gianna Guzzo (NY), “that this is where everything that allows us to be here today happens.”
Walking through the National Mall and Memorial Parks to see the monuments was no less immersive. From the Lincoln Memorial where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. gave his “I Have a Dream” speech to the pattering fountain at the World War II Memorial, each place struck the group with reverence and respect at the moments of history that they stand for.
By the end of the week, we were sad to leave D.C. because of how great it was to learn so much there. But now we are left with pictures and memories of the past, and it is time to make our own mark on the history of this great nation. – BRENT HINCHCLIFF (CA)
“Ever since I was a young child, service in political office seemed to me to be something reserved for only the ‘great’ people,” remarked Jonathan McCormick Jr. (Oklahoma). “But fortunately, I was mistaken. I realized that our government—‘of, by, and for the people’—not only allows but also necessitates that our nation’s leaders arise from the People. With this in mind, I chose to apply for the NRA Youth Education Summit. To my jubilation, I was selected!”
Jonathan is not unlike the 45 other students who attended this year’s Y.E.S.—students who understand the importance of civics, government, current events and respectful discourse. At the summit, the NRA provided us all with a productive and engaging way to learn about our nation’s history and about how we can impact its future.
The group was privileged to meet Congressman Duncan on the steps of the Capitol as he spoke about the importance of civil liberties and self-defense. Being in the nation’s capital alone is incredibly honoring, and we were grateful to meet with and learn from the experience of an elected official.
The same day, we enthusiastically attended a session of the House of Representatives and toured the Capitol, learning about the history and architecture of the legislative branch. Then we heard a presentation on the history and legacy of the judiciary branch at the Supreme Court. Everyone was particularly intrigued to learn that “Highest Court in the Land” is actually a basketball court on the top floor of the building!
One of the most exciting activities of the week, especially for the students interested in pursuing a future in politics, was the current events discussion. Groups used their research and analysis to formulate answers to relevant policy issues. For example, our group answered questions about stand-your-ground laws and the importance of the castle doctrine. These discussions were moderated and observed by NRA staff from various departments including legal, executive and grant management. Though groups and individuals disagreed on some topics, all discussions proceeded in a direct yet respectful manner—a refreshing thought in today’s polarized political environment.
Students also participated in formal team debates at Hillsdale College’s Kirby Center. Engaging in constructive conversations, we discussed topics such as drug abuse, gun violence, violent video games and society’s obligation regarding social welfare. Each student did research and preparation ahead of time in coordination with their assigned teammates, and it was a rewarding experience to work in the debate groups to formulate and present our arguments. Everyone not only did a fantastic job, but also learned a lot in the process.
I will never forget my Y.E.S. experience—neither the organized activities provided by the NRA nor the valuable one-on-one conversations with my peers. I was engaged, empowered, challenged and inspired. Our nation needs leaders, especially in its youth, and I know many were made during the 2017 Youth Education Summit. – SIMON SEFZIK (WA)
On Thursday afternoon, the Y.E.S. group toured the American History Museum. As I walked through the exhibits with Canlin Dionne (LA), I had a spark of curiosity. On the spur of the moment, I asked Canlin how the military history exhibit—The Price of Freedom: Americans at War—made him feel. Despite the broadness of the question, he handled it very deftly.
“Peter, I don’t really know how I feel, per se,” he began in his Louisiana accent. “But I do now know that these people were real. They fought for us and died for us. They’re not just names in books but people who lived. This place has really made that clear for me.”
That sentiment has stuck with me ever since he spoke those words. All of my peers were affected by the monuments we visited in unique ways. To each of us the museums carried different messages. Statues and exhibits alike portrayed valorous and honorable people from American history. As we visited several memorials, including the Vietnam, Lincoln, Korean, World War II, Iwo Jima and Thomas Jefferson, each imparted unique meanings to us all.
But there was a subtle, shared nuance in my interpretation of the monuments that the rest of my peers who also want to serve in the military understood. We all learned that military service isn’t all action and heroics, but that—when it comes down to duty on the battlefield, in the sky or at sea—as a soldier, airman or sailor one must be prepared to make the same sacrifice as so many have before us.
“The monuments and museums inspired me in a couple of ways,” shared Stephen Garner (TX). “One thing that struck me is that we have never gone to conquer but rather to liberate others or to defend ourselves. Most people don’t have the freedoms of Americans, and these monuments are devoted to the men and women who have sacrificed their lives so that others can experience those freedoms and so that we may continue to experience ours.”
Despite this insight, none of us have faltered in our desire to serve our country in the military; we have steeled our will. We are deeply grateful for the opportunity to visit all of the historic and sacred locations afforded to us by Y.E.S., and we will seek to preserve our country’s legacy of freedom. – PETER LEONARD (FL)
It’s a situation that many people are familiar with—the first time you meet someone new and begin the process of answering their questions about you, your interests, your hobbies. Usually for me it goes something like: “What’s your name? Where are you from? What do you do for fun?” “Emily. Wisconsin. I shoot.” “Shoot? Like, ‘pew pew’?” “Well, kind of…”
When I came to Y.E.S., for the first time in my life I was in a place where I didn’t have to explain what competitive shooting was. Sure, I had to explain some of the specific clay target disciplines, but in this group it wasn’t abnormal to be a competitive shooter. Everyone at the summit had shot at least once, and many did recreationally or competitively. On day one it already felt like home.
The first place we got to visit during the week was NRA Headquarters. This included hearing from NRA program leaders, participating in a mock Friends of NRA banquet, a tour of the NRA National Firearms Museum, and—my favorite part—shooting at the NRA Range. After receiving a safety briefing and eye and ear protection, we spread out across the lanes and took turns shooting a variety of pistols and rifles. For some students this was one of their first shooting experiences; for others this was just another Tuesday. No matter where we fell on the spectrum, each of us beamed with excitement and joy. The range also filled with quite a bit of yelling since we were still trying to get to know each other through ear plugs and the noise of bullets.
Throughout the week, we continued to learn more about the Second Amendment from leaders at the NRA, from our peers during the current events discussions and from the Bill of Rights itself at the National Archives. But what stuck with me most was the conversations I had with my peers. Talking with Quinton Taylor (OH) and Cristián Lee (AZ) revealed that we had all been at Scholastic Clay Target Program (SCTP) Nationals just a week before. Grayson Davey (AK) and I compared which top competitive shooters we knew and followed.
It was interesting to talk with some of the students who just shot for fun and weren't out on the line at least twice a week. I learned a lot from their mentality when it came to shooting. And even though we came from different states, had different backgrounds and shot differently, our passion for the Second Amendment and our desire to protect it brought us together.
I thought the hardest part about Y.E.S. week would be being away from my shotgun. But, in reality, leaving all the wonderful people who changed my life for the better was much harder. – EMILY RASSMUSSEN (WI)
A week-long competitive fellowship in Washington, D.C. enables high school sophomores and juniors to explore their passion for the U.S. Constitution, the Bill of Rights and our American government.