Beyond Brewster: My journey to the White House

2011 Washington state representative Erik Gomez, a senior at Brewster (Wash.) Junior/Senior High School, shared his experience in a Nov. 2011 article published in The Wenatchee World.

My hometown, Brewster, is unknown by most who live on the west coast of Washington, and it’s a miracle if someone from outside of the state does. It’s no wonder then that many who live here aspire to leave.

I am one of them. But after being told “You’ll never leave,” I questioned if I could leave. I doubted my abilities, my education and my will to leave and introduce Brewster to the world.

This past summer, however, extinguished those doubts. I left Brewster to travel across the nation to our nation’s capital, Washington, D.C. And I did it for free.

In May, I entered the Al Neuharth Free Spirit Program for Aspiring Journalists contest. Open only to high school juniors, there are 51 winners: one winner per state, including D.C. I filled an application form, mailed in two of my best journalistic pieces, two letters of recommendation and two essays.

Then, in June, I received a letter congratulating me — “You are your state’s winner!” I was going to D.C.!

On the morning of the flight, I realized I was leaving the state for the first time, that I was about to fly for the first time.

It was all “Oooh’s” and “Ahhh’s” until I finally reached the hotel and business started. I was in Washington, D.C., and I was my state’s representative. I said very little the first day.

The trip was busy all six days I was there. Our mornings were filled with trips to media centers, including NBC Broadcasting headquarters, where we sat at a taping of “Meet the Press” moderated by David Gregory, and USA Today offices, where we spoke with executive editor John Hillkirk.

We spent most of our time in the Newseum, the national museum for news. There, we met Al Neuharth the founder of the Freedom Forum, Newseum and USA Today. American Journalism Review named him the most influential person in print media of the 1980s.We stood on Pennsylvania Avenue and recited the First Amendment. We had lunch with professional journalists at the National Press Club. There, I learned that 63 percent of Americans can name the five characters of the Simpsons, but only 3 percent can name the five freedoms listed in the First Amendment.I’ll always remember waiting 20 minutes to tour the White House because President Barack Obama was inside.My favorite part of the trip was listening to guest speakers Ernest “Rip” Patton, John Seigenthaler and Susan Wilbur Wamsley, who experienced the Freedom Rides of the Civil Rights Movement firsthand. It strengthened my belief that everything affects everything.Even though every day I had to wake up at 6 a.m. and didn’t get to bed until 11 p.m., it was a life-changing experience. I made new friends, and I visited places that I thought I would only be able to visit on TV.

It didn’t matter that I was from Brewster; I was equal with everyone.

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