17 Students Participate in 8-day Educational Experience Traveling To NYC and Washington, D.C. during SEA’s 9th Changemakers Tour.

By Changemakers Tour Director, A.J. Kohlhepp

After two years of virtual tours and one year on hiatus, the former Citizenship Tour was poised for a major reboot in 2023. That began with a name change to the current Changemakers Tour, which allowed the students and staff alike to see themselves as agents of change within other larger systems. Brand new leadership in the Director (A.J. Kohlhepp) and Associate Director (Jamil Cary) roles contributed to this new outlook while three Counselors (Jocelyn Feliciano, Maleik Grier and Fefe Yamaguchi), who had experienced the Tour as high schoolers, helped preserve continuity with the past.

We kicked things off with a welcome dinner at Tony’s Di Napoli in Times Square. On the first full day, we visited the New York Botanical Gardens, where their Director of Education Arvolyn Hill offered her perspective on the value of gardening in modern life. From there we commuted to NBC Studios, where we got the inside scoop on life at 30 Rockefeller Center. SEA students had the opportunity to meet and greet with various NBC pros, including Tom Llamas, and even got to jump in front of and behind the camera on the Today Show set. Pizza along the Hudson River brought the day to a close.

Day two saw the Changemakers on the move. We began at the New York Times and toured the headquarters, including the Board Room, an historical exhibit, and the Pulitzer Prize collection. Then we got to sit down with Pulitzer-winning columnist Brent Staples and Editor of the Opinion section, Katie Kingsbury, to learn about their process, and their perspective, in the rapidly changing media world. Our next stop was Brooklyn, where we visited the DOJ offices of the Eastern District of New York. There we learned about Breon Peace’s journey to the Justice Department and his approach to pursuing a more just country for all Americans. A quick ice cream on the Brooklyn Bridge and we high-tailed it to Harlem for squash and a soul-food supper at StreetSquash. Last but not least, we got a behind the scenes look at the Museum of the City of New York from Chief Curator and Interm Director Sarah Henry. A lovely walk across Central Park brought our epic day to an end.

During our last full day in New York, we ventured to New York University’s School of Professional Studies. Their new Dean, Angie Kamath, shared formative aspects of her own journey and revealed new ways to imagine higher education for the 21st century. (She also provided us with books and sandwiches!) Prior to that session, we met with author, editor and public statesman Richard Stengel, who shared insights gleaned from his own professional path and from his close connections with the great statesman Nelson Mandela. Not only did Stengel sign copies of his Mandela book for each student; he even promised to write recommendations for any aspiring Changemaker who wanted one. We wound down with some free time, followed by custom burgers in the hotel lobby.

On Saturday morning we packed up, checked out, and boarded a charter bus bound for Philadelphia. Our first stop was the Arlen Specter Squash Center, the amazing headquarters of US Squash. There we heard from Kim Clearkin and Sakora Miller about the national and local focus, respectively, of the organization’s efforts to change the way squash is viewed and played. Then everybody got to play a ton as US Squash created an in-house tournament for us. Kicked out at closing time, we headed over to our lodgings in University City. After a shower and some down time, we found dinner down the street and made an early night of it. 

The next day saw us on the move once again. We boarded another coach bus and headed for Wilmington, DE. At First State Squash, we enjoyed an amazing lunch and lecture courtesy of First State parent and culinary entrepreneur Joyce Acquah. Shuttle rides with First State’s Olivia Terziani brought us to local business Books & Bagels, where Ellen Cappard shared her own insights as a small business owner and literacy advocate. A couple more hours on the bus got us to Washington DC, where we enjoyed some excellent pizza in Franklin Park.

On our first full DC day, we kicked things off at the Institute of International Education. IIE principals Chelsea Sypher and Courtney Temple helped us to understand ways in which the world could impact our own understanding and we might bring something of ourselves beyond the borders of our own nation. (They also fed us an amazing breakfast.) From there we hustled to Capitol Hill, where we met with Soumya Dayananda and Robin Peguero, who both served on the January 6 committee. Besides their work on that committee, they shared aspects of their own personal and professional journeys. The final stop on our first DC day was the amazing National Museum of African American History and Culture. We spent two great hours taking it all in, but we could have spent two days and not seen everything the Smithsonian has put together there.

Our second day began with a tour of the East Wing of the White House. In addition to marveling at the fixtures, faces and frames of bygone eras and administrations, the Changemakers were thrilled to take selfies with the images of the Obamas. (We were hoping to cross paths with the current administration but they were apparently occupied with other matters of state.)  Next up was a visit to the Department of Justice, where a speechwriter and a librarian and three attorneys helped us to understand the enduring legacy of that institution, which can serve to both preserve certain American ideals and expand ways in which Americans can achieve peace and prosperity in their own lives. The icing on that proverbial cake came when the United States Attorney General himself, Merrick Garland, popped out of his office for a full-group photo opportunity. 

For our last evening, the Changemakers headed to Squash on Fire. Free play with SoF regulars and SEA backers was followed by an amazing taco buffet; two dozen hand-crafted donuts; and program awards and accolades. (Everyone was a winner!)  Back at the hotel, the Changemakers met to reflect on their whirlwind Tour; to deepen the many interpersonal connections that had begun on the trip; and to think about how the lessons learned from this summer experience will impact their own lives, and their communities, in time to come.