Hilltop on the Hill in Washington

In fall 2009, 17 Journalism and Corporate Communications & Public Affairs students are studying in Washington, D.C., in October for the Hilltop on The Hill 2009 program.

The power of the spoken word

310.jpg An update from Deanna, a senior CCPA major:

Wow. I cannot say enough positive things about my Washington, D.C., experience.
It was fantastic. Props to Dr. Kirk for putting on such a wonderful program.225.JPG

I want to touch on a few specific experiences I had, aside from being totally camera-happy in the nation’s capital (I sure did love the Washington Monument and Lincoln Memorial). We spoke with a lot of people who were working directly with the press, which definitely inspired me because I could see myself doing this one day.

We met with Taylor Thorney, Press Secretary for Bob McDonnell. We spoke with President Obama’s regional Press Secretary for the South. We also met Scooter, who works for the Democratic National Convention and has written speeches for Hillary Clinton and then-Presidential candidate Barack Obama.

These three people, along with many other people we spoke with, have a direct influence on how the media, and ultimately the American people, portray the candidates. They have the power to convey certain messages to certain people, just as the candidates want them to do. Their jobs were fascinating.

When we visited the Holocaust Museum, we saw the traveling exhibit of Hitler’s Propaganda. This was incredible, in the non-traditional sense of the word. How is it possible that Nazis could use such persuasive propaganda to commit genocide? Hitler’s picture had a quote of his written above it: “All great, earth-shaking events have been brought about by the spoken word.” Wow. How powerful.

224.JPGNow, this made me think. After speaking with all the people directly involved with the press, people who directly represent their candidate, it made me think that they have the power to (more or less) send whatever message they want – as do the candidates. 073.JPG

In America, when we think of our freedoms, we know freedom of speech is what makes our country progress. Without the spoken word, many movement leaders would not have been able to change the world for the good – like the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., who would not have made progress with civil rights. But what about if the spoken word is used for harm – to commit genocide?

This made me realize the power of communication, and how we really need to study the spoken word. It can be so powerful. I truly believe the spoken word is earth-changing, but we need to always fight for changing the world for the good.

In addition to our speakers and visiting the Holocaust Museum, we had the opportunity to do the Mall Crawl. What an awesome experience! The Lincoln Memorial was so beautiful, and much larger than I had anticipated. The Washington Monument was awesome, and the Smithsonian Castle was just stunning. Needless to say, I took a lot of pictures … 359 to be exact!

Overall, Washington, D.C., was an amazing experience. I cannot thank Dr. Kirk enough for putting on such a fabulous program. It was invigorating, educational and just a lot of fun!

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D.C. highlights

Danielle.jpgAn update from Danielle, a junior CCPA major:

Do Americans understand the value of news reporting? If every single American had the chance to visit the Newseum, they would. In a world where some reporters live in fear for their lives under the shadow of oppressive government, America is a golden example of uninhibited press. Oftentimes the American public takes power of the press for granted.

I regained my admiration and respect for journalists after weaving through the amazing exhibits in the Newseum. I found the most interesting display to be the News History Exhibit. This exhibit archived a decade’s worth of breaking news stories. On the interactive touch screens I was able to play broadcasts covering the OJ Simpson trial, Hurricane Katrina, 9/11, the Oklahoma City Bombing and many more. I spent a good 45 minutes just in this one area of the museum. Looking at segment after segment of fierce reporting on events that impacted the world gave me a new perspective on the role of media.

IMG_1490-1.jpg Our country was founded on the idea that freedom of the press would create a watchdog for government. The News History exhibit sparked my reflection on the importance of our First Amendment rights and the sad reality that America is one of only a few countries that upholds freedom of the press. (In photo: The First Amendment is engraved in the stone face of the Newseum.)

IMG_1505.jpg One of the amazing things about the Hilltop on the Hill program is the opportunity to meet alumni who are active in the communications and journalism fields. Due to the amazing connections of our faculty and the fact that many alums are more than willing to offer advice to their fellow Mustangs, we had VIP access. We were able to listen to the experiences and wisdom of accomplished people like Taylor Thornley, who at 22 years old is a deputy press secretary to the gubernatorial candidate of Virginia, and Robert Hillman, an editor for Washington’s prime political publication, Politico. (In photo: We took a VIP tour of the Politico newsroom.)

The Hilltop on the Hill program wasn’t your typical fall break vacation. We were constantly on the go, and I felt totally immersed in the professional and political tone of Washington, D.C.

IMG_1444.jpg Our trek down the famous D.C. Mall was one of the most majestic and patriotic experiences of the trip. The mall includes the Capitol Building and the Lincoln, Washington, World War II and Vietnam Memorials. I personally preferred the Lincoln Memorial. Looking up at the huge likeness of Abe Lincoln is a very humbling experience. With the Gettysburg Address and the Emancipation Proclamation inscribed on the walls of the memorial, I found myself reflecting on the importance of public speaking and debate.

When Professor Ben Voth, our SMU speech and debate team coach, stood on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial and pointed to the spot where Martin Luther King Jr. gave his “I Have a Dream Speech,” it intensified this reflection for me. Our country celebrates public speaking, and the legacy of major public orators in U.S. history surges through the memorials of the D.C. Mall.

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A meaningful day in D.C.

Victoria.jpg An update from Victoria, a junior CCPA and French major:

Washington, D.C., is a city full of excitement, history and opportunity, and I was lucky enough to be a part of SMU’s Hilltop on the Hill fall 2009 program. It was a wonderful trip. I got to meet with people who have succeeded on the Hill and be an obnoxious camera-happy tourist.

The whole trip was amazing, but one day in particular stood out to me, and that was Saturday, October 10, when we went to the Holocaust Museum and then did the Mall Crawl. It was a very emotional day for the whole group but especially for me because that was the day I found out my dad was in the hospital. Holocaust-1.jpg

Walking around the Holocaust Museum and seeing how people suffered made me realize that my problems are so small compared to what they went through. It also made me realize how lucky I am and how life isn’t always about making the most money; it’s about being with the people you love. As the day continued we saw many more memorials and the same thoughts continued in my head.

The National Mall is the area of Washington full of monuments and memorials stretching from the Capitol to the Lincoln Memorial. This was where we spent our afternoon and evening. Out of all the memorials on the mall, the World War II memorial was the most significant to me.

WWII%20memorial.jpg My grandfather fought in this war, in the Navy, and I am so proud and honored to be his granddaughter. He is a wonderful, kind and generous man who would do anything for anyone. He served his country with honor and pride. This beautiful memorial filled me with emotion because I thought about my Grandpa Pumpkin and all the other people who risked their lives.WWII%20Memorial%20and%20Washington%20Monument.jpg Needless to say, Saturday was a day that not only made me reflect, but also one that gave me a greater sense of meaning of the battles and wars that were fought.

Dr. Kirk, Dr. Voth, Professor Barta and Professor Baily-Byers were the wonderful faculty members on the trip. Without their efforts, this trip would not have been possible, so I want to thank each of them.

My Grandma Pumpkin always told me, “The most you can do is the best you can do, and the best that you can do is the most that you can do.” This has a new meaning in my life after my emotional day in our nation’s capital. I will do my best to be a great American citizen and treat everyone with the respect they deserve.

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Advice from the top

Elizabeth.jpg An update from Elisabeth:

I mentioned in my earlier blog that we were fortunate enough to make connections with accomplished people. These connections were just a piece of what we learned.

Starting Friday morning we met people ranging from those who worked beside the president to those who report the news at CNN. They have paved their own way, and they all gave us different advice as to how to follow in their footsteps.

Mr. Dan Weiser, Senior Web Editor for the U.S. House of Representatives, suggested that we follow our dreams right away, for after a while there will be younger and more knowledgeable people out for your job! Justine Treadwell, who works for the Office of African Affairs, suggested that we experience everything we can, for that is the best way to dive in and really understand something.

Gannet Tseggai, the Southern Communications Director for President Obama, suggested that getting an internship and getting yourself involved in anything would help make the connections needed. Ed Henry from CNN suggested that we treat everyone with respect, for there is no way of knowing anyone’s position in 10 years.

Taylor Thorney, recent SMU alum who works for candidate Bob McDonnell, suggested that we stay positive and offer help even if no one is asking for it.

Finally, James Glassman, Executive Director for the future George W. Bush Institute, mentioned that the skill of rhetoric in our writing is the most important asset when trying to climb the professional ladder.

Yes, these are all very different suggestions. Nevertheless they share one common theme: professionalism in any opportunity is the key to success.

If I had not traveled to Washington, D.C., with SMU, I would not have had confirmation from every source that persistence is the grand piece to a successful career. I am fortunate enough to have had the opportunity to network and meet the people who have made their dreams realities.

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A remarkable end to our trip

Photo%20on%202009-10-09%20at%2020.02.jpg An update from senior CCPA major Solomon:

USCapitol.jpg It’s been five terrific days spent in D.C., and I couldn’t be more enthused about each day’s events. This day was just as terrific as the others.

Our first order of business was a discussion at the Freedom Forum First Amendment Center by Charles Haynes. Mr. Haynes is the most educated man I know of on the issues of the First Amendment and how it pertains to the freedom of expression regarding religion.

A specific question I had about the Pledge of Allegiance and how this seems to be making an exit from our schools was met with an intelligent response. Mr. Haynes referred to freedom of conscience and said that if we were to abolish the Pledge from schools, it would create a slippery slope of no return. On the other hand, with the Pledge of Allegiance so common in our schools, the words “One nation, under God,” become a form of ceremonial deism that dilutes the religious underpinnings of the initial use of the words. As I said, the conversation was highly interesting.

After the conversation with Mr. Haynes, we flew across town to our rendezvous with Politico. For those of you who aren’t in the know, Politico is one of the quintessential newspapers both in print and on the Internet that Washingtonians (and the nation) read on a daily basis.

IMG_8053.jpg At Politico we met with G. Robert Hillman. Mr. Hillman gave us a tour of the facilities, (Politico shares office space with a local Virginia television station), then sat us down to talk of his job at the paper and what Politico aims to do on the Hill. We were fascinated to learn that such a prominent D.C. newspaper with such wide coverage employs such a small group of writers and editors – put it this way, they work the soles of their shoes day in and day out, 24/7!

After Politico we ate a brief lunch before heading back to the Capitol Building. Dan Weiser took us through on a tour of the Capitol. We are exceedingly grateful for the access Mr. Weiser granted us and for the time he took to show us around.

IMG_8089.jpg The section of the Capitol we went into was brand-new and only opened to visitors during the summer of last year. One of the first things we saw as we entered was a full-sized original plaster casting of the Liberty statue that stands on top of the dome of the Capitol. Dr. Kirk and Mr. Weiser stood in front, and I took the picture.

The interior of the dome of the Capitol was amazing. All the architecture, the beautiful murals, the absolutely gorgeous light that came streaming in from outside – it was all remarkable!

The whole trip was remarkable! I am forever grateful and humbled to have been chosen to be a part of this trip. All of the students on the trip were wonderful to be around, the faculty was professional and efficient, and the guest speakers were knowledgeable and insightful.

To those who’ve never been on the Hill, who’ve never experienced Hilltop on the Hill, I only have to say that not to go would be tantamount to cheating yourself out of a life-enriching – and for some a life-changing – experience. Take advantage of the opportunities you’re given and run with it!

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Day 4: Making connections

Photo%20on%202009-10-09%20at%2020.02.jpg An update from senior CCPA major Solomon:

NCathedral-1.jpg This morning started out auspiciously as we made our way to the National Cathedral, the site of many presidential events. The National Cathedral was awe-inspiring, especially since it’s the only church of its kind anywhere in the U.S. Nowhere else will you see stained-glass murals dedicated to space travel, or to the pioneers and early formations of our nation. It was truly remarkable.

While we were there, a guest speaker, Karen Armstrong, spoke to the crowd of the multiple dimensions of religion. She was fascinating! As she spoke, new paradigms of thought were opened up to me as to the meaning of “belief” in a higher power.

h-img3.jpg After our religious encounter at the National Cathedral, we went back to our hotel to encounter – a protest! It wasn’t any ordinary protest. This protest was huge! The masses were collectively arguing for gay rights and marching through the city to the White House lawn. Professor Voth even witnessed a First Amendment tussle between protestors and a person who held a sign arguing against the gay rights movement.

As we walked to the Newseum, the gigantic First Amendment etching in stone on the side of the building acted as a silent reminder to the protestors below of the right they were exercising – the right to peaceably assemble.

At the Newseum we attended another taping of The Future of News with the guest speaker, author David Finkel. Mr. Finkel discussed the difficulties he encountered as an embedded journalist with the Army in Iraq. Out of his sojourn came a book titled The Good Soldiers, a remarkable narrative on soldiers’ quality of life while serving our nation on the frontlines. I bought his book, a first edition, and after the show, Mr. Finkel autographed it.

Alltogetherw-Glassman.jpg After the Newseum we had a bit of a break before heading to the SMU Alumni Reception at the Acadiana restaurant. James Glassman, the newly named director of the Bush Institute and former undersecretary of state for public diplomacy, arrived with his wife before everyone else. He gave us a brief rundown of what expectations he and his team have for the think tank developed specifically for the Bush Presidential Library at SMU. This was a truly amazing experience to hear the details of what we can expect. I can’t wait for the center to be built now that I understand what is coming to SMU. (In photo: James Glassman (center) with our group.)

Other alumni showed up, and the talkfest was on! To hear from the alumni of their success stories and how they got to where they currently are gave many people aspirations for greatness. These are ordinary people with extraordinary ambition who have made a difference in their lives as well as others. Their excellence in their professional lives is a testament to the values instilled in them by SMU.

Our last day arrives tomorrow, and so will my last blog entry.

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Learning religion

CIMG0594.jpg An update from senior CCPA major Michelle:

We started out the morning with a view of the beautiful National Cathedral. The building was stunning. Stained-glass windows allowed just the right amount of light to filter in. The architecture was detailed and encompassing.

We listened to Karen Armstrong speak about what religion really means. She discussed how she believed that “religion was like dancing – it takes hours and years of dedicated work to get it right. You can’t just learn religion by going to church once a week and reading a book; it takes practice.” The lecture was intriguing and especially impactful given the beauty of the cathedral.

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America’s cathedral

Claire.jpg An update from Claire, a junior CCPA and political science major:

DC1.jpg If one looks at a map of all the illustrious Gothic cathedrals in Western Europe, it would resemble a preschooler’s attempt to put sprinkles on a sugar cookie – the map would be covered in locations. However, glance at a map of grand Gothic cathedrals in the United States, and only one would be present on the map. This is not necessarily bad, for a cookie is surely overpowered by too many sprinkles.

The National Cathedral in Washington, D.C., may well be one of the last great Gothic cathedrals built, and while it is similar to the famed cathedrals scattered across Western Europe, it stands alone, without others to distract from its glory. It differs not only in its lone status, but also in its message.

DC2.jpgThe National Cathedral was not built for purely religious reasons; it contains messages of the religion of America – a concept Charles Haynes, a senior scholar on religious liberty and religion in America at the First Amendment Center, would call “freedom of conscience.” The Cathedral was erected to commemorate this religion of the United States and our shared history.

DC3.jpg One difference between the National Cathedral and others in its class lies in the small details within the walls. The National Cathedral has vivid stained-glass windows – as do many other cathedrals – yet its windows do not just depict religious scenes. Many of the windows tell stories of American triumph and struggle. For example, there is a window depicting biblical conflict juxtaposed with a scene from the American Civil War. There is also a brilliant window devoted to space that actually contains a piece of the moon.

While the typical Gothic cathedral has statues of saints, the National Cathedral has statues of its own heroes, such as Abraham Lincoln. Also, while the grand European cathedrals were indicators of the wealth and might of the Catholic Church, the National Cathedral stands to bind the Christian faith with religion, as Karen Armstrong explained it once used to be. The National Cathedral stands as a testament that within a free democracy, Christianity can prosper and grow alongside science and freedom of conscience.

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Day 3: Lessons in history

Photo%20on%202009-10-09%20at%2020.02.jpg An update from senior CCPA major Solomon:

This is simply one of those days that draws the proverbial line in the sand. This day, unlike the first two, started off in somber fashion with a trip to the National Holocaust Museum.

The National Holocaust Museum offers visitors a unique experience, as one is immersed in the dark realms of Nazi Germany in the 1930s and ’40s. Personally, I found it overwhelming. I wept on more than one occasion. To see an entire town liquidated was more than I could handle.

h2-IMG_7612.JPG Flanking two walls in the museum were photographs, stories high, of the daily rituals people in the village undertook. These were people. They had lives, they had stories, they had traditions, they had LIFE. And you walk down the stairs to the next level and the walls are bare. It’s the sudden realization that what was once there is no longer. The lives of these people are forever gone and will never be reclaimed once more.

The Holocaust Museum isn’t just a museum; it’s an experience that echoes through time to remind us that we cannot afford to remain idle in the face of genocide. Darfur is our current crisis and, in my opinion, must be dealt with directly.

After that heavy dose of reality, we headed off for the Newseum. The Newseum is dedicated to journalism in all of its forms – in print and in broadcast format. This museum was amazing. There are six floors in total, which leave one out of breath at each landing. Our First Amendment rights, in action, are evident in every nook and cranny of the museum.

There’s just so much to absorb, so much to take in, that it is impossible to understand the breadth and depth of the history of journalism and its continuing role of educating and better informing the masses. Wave after progressive wave of reform, from the tearing down of the Berlin Wall (a portion of the wall is there) to the journalistic endeavors of men such as Murrow who were not afraid of McCarthyism, are on display here at the museum.

We were able to see a taping of The Future of News and our own Professor Rita Kirk was chosen out of the audience to ask the panel members a question regarding citizen journalists.

h2-KWAR1.jpg This day was a rollercoaster up to this point but was not over. We dispersed in the Mall and took several separate routes. I ended up with an old friend of mine at the Lincoln Memorial and the Korean War Memorial, where I took this photo (right).

I can only say that the experiences I have had here so far have not been anything less than stellar, and I am deeply grateful to SMU for having this opportunity. Tomorrow arrives shortly, and with it, more experiences to be had.

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Connection to the past

Elizabeth.jpg An update from Elisabeth:

On the third day of the trip, we had the opportunity to attend the Holocaust Museum.

This was special to me because I have always been interested in World War II, and more specifically, the Holocaust. My grandparents were in the War and were German citizens at the time. They did not agree to follow Hitler, so it was so fascinating for me to see what they endured, along with all the others who were harmed.

Recently, I suffered the loss of my grandfather at the age of 81. Knowing that he suffered through all of this pain made me reflect on his recent passing. I had visited the wonderful nation’s capital before, but I did not have the opportunity to visit this impactful museum. I have now already made arrangements to speak with my grandmother about her experience, whenever she feels comfortable. I also learned that my grandfather had left his story before he passed.

Walking through the exhibitions, I felt like my grandfather was there with me, shadowing me the whole way. I have never felt so in touch with my grandparents, and I am glad I still have the opportunity to hear my grandmother’s story.

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