Yesterday afternoon, it was a group of Presidential Scholars. The President had invited them to the White House to congratulate them on their award, and to use the occasion to reauthorize the “No Child Left Behind” act.
Presidential Scholars are smart kids. According to a Washington Post story this morning, it’s a high honor that very few kids get:
“Each year the program selects one male and one female student from each state, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, Americans living abroad, 15 at-large students, and up to 20 students in the arts on the basis of outstanding scholarship, service, leadership and creativity.”
Not only do these kids get to meet the President, but they also attend lectures and seminars all over Washington, with government officials and elected representatives, during the month of June.
These are smart kids.
These are bright kids.
These are the kind of kids that serve as vessels for our collective hopes and dreams for the future.
When the President met with 50-some of these kids yesterday, they handed him a handwritten letter. Apparently, it was a letter stating some of their heartfelt concerns.
Now even though these are smart kids, they’re still kids. So you had to wonder: whatcrucial issue would be on their minds and hearts, compelling them to speak to the President directly about it?
Were they requesting presidential pardon for Paris Hilton?
Suggesting Ludacris tunes for his iPod?
Offering him a Haiku about Sanjaya?
Nope. None of these. Instead, the handwritten note implored the President to uphold the Geneva Conventions.
The concern on these high school kid’s hearts was torture; and told the President that they“believe we have a responsibility to voice our convictions.”
Here’s a part of their letter:
“We do not want America to represent torture. We urge you to do all in your power to stop violations of the human rights of detainees, to cease illegal renditions, and to apply the Geneva Convention to all detainees, including those designated enemy combatants…”
I can promise you what you will hear in the media today. On right-wing-talk-radio, you will hear that these kids ambushed the President. They will call it disgraceful that these kids took an innocent and non-political event, and injected politics into it.
But, of course, they did nothing of the sort.
It was, in fact, thePresident’s staff who was atttempted to use them as window dressing at the reauthorization of “No Child Left Behind.” His staff put politics into it. They just chose to speak their mind too.
We’ll probably also hear that not all of the President Scholars signed on to this letter.
I am sure this is the case. In any group of smart, free-thinking kids, there will be those who choose not to go with the group.
But neither of these is the thing I will remember from this story.
What I will remember is the courage it took for these high school kids –who were guests in the White House– to speak out boldly about what they believe.
The power differential between a high school kid and the President of the United States is pretty vast. The possibility of retaliation by others, or the loss of career opportunities, is real. They had no power to wield, and everything to lose. Given this, the pressure to stand quietly, smile meekly, take pics for your MySpace page, and then just go home, must have been intense.
But they didn’t do that. They did much more than that. They chose to speak their “truth” to the most powerful “power” in the world.
And whether you agree with them or disagree with them, you have to admit that it takes a lot of courage to do what they did.
And for this, I’d have to say that these are smart kids. They give me some hope about the future.
They are real high school heroes.