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The La Salle Falconer

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Back to Boston: La Salle Attends Harvard Model Congress for First Time Since Pandemic

Josephine Robinson
This year’s Harvard Model Congress group got matching sweatshirts, which many wore to school on Friday, Feb. 16.

For the first time since the COVID-19 pandemic, 21 students from La Salle, along with social studies teacher Mr. Alex Lanaghan and Vice Principal of Academics Ms. Kathleen Coughran, have the opportunity to attend Harvard Model Congress in Boston, Massachusetts. 

The trip is a weeklong experience starting on Tuesday, Feb. 20 to Sunday,  Feb. 25, where students get the chance to explore Boston as well as what it is like to be a member of Congress. 

“Essentially, students are assigned a role where they are given an actual member of Congress,” Mr. Lanaghan said. “It can be a member of the Senate, it can be a member of the House — and they are supposed to be that person for four days.” 

During those four days students from around 1,500 schools across the country will do everything that a member of Congress would, such as participate in committees, give speeches, debate, and create legislation, as well as deliberate and amend that legislation. 

Harvard Model Congress has been a fully student-run event since it first started in 1986 and is the oldest Model Congress in the country. The student leaders act as committee chairs who help guide the participating students with the correct procedures for a Congressional session.  

Mr. Lanaghan feels that gaining confidence in public speaking is one of the many benefits of attending Harvard Model Congress, as there are many opportunities to not only debate but engage in discussions, along with building teamwork and communication skills. 

The aspect of public speaking, while a bit nerve wracking, was a main factor in why senior Kayley Nguyen decided to participate in the trip, as she sees this as a way to practice and gain further confidence in her ability to do so. 

In addition to these skills, Harvard Model Congress is a great way to learn more about how the government works and become well versed in the issues affecting the country at the present moment. 

“We have had a lot of students come back and then they have applied what they learned in class,” Mr. Lanaghan said. 

Students initially are able to choose which part of Congress they would like to participate in, whether it be the Senate or House of Representatives — and in some cases a special committee — and then they choose a committee within that chamber that they are interested in. From there, they are assigned a member of Congress to research. Alongside this, students are given two topics dealing with current national issues that their representatives are an advocate for and they are also to do research on. 

“It might be climate issues. It might be national security issues. It might be AI. It might be childhood poverty. It could be anything as long as it’s something that is actually real and there is going to be information out there,” Mr. Lanaghan said. 

Some topics that students from La Salle will be researching and discussing during the event are homelessness and the housing crisis as well as big tech and banking. The housing and homelessness crises are issues that both Nguyen and senior Addie Moreland are passionate about and are excited to talk about during Harvard Model Congress. 

“I like debating, especially on a topic I am passionate about,” Moreland said. “I am also looking forward to talking to kids that I don’t know … and I’m excited to learn other people’s perspectives, or at least the perspectives of their congress people.” 

Students begin preparing for this event weeks in advance, and most usually do so by using the briefings given by Harvard and online resources to gather information about their members of Congress and their topics. 

However, this year one student took it one step further. 

“I contacted my person that I am representing — his name is Gary Palmer from Alabama — and I just called his office and was like ‘Hey, my name is David Sharyan. I’m a high school student in Oregon and I’m going to be representing this representative in Harvard Model Congress,’” sophomore David Sharyan said. “They were so on board.” 

Sharyan was able to build a connection with his representative’s aide, Davis Bunn, and gather further information beyond what the news and internet could tell him. He learned that his member of Congress is the chairman of the House Republican Policy Committee and he is a “go getter,” Sharyan said. 

“And when I go to Boston and represent him there, that’s exactly what I’m going to be doing,” Sharyan said. “I want to get things done.” 

This connection took a bit of dedication on Sharyan’s part as he had to get up at 5 a.m. in order to have a Zoom meeting with Bunn who lives on the East Coast. However, for Sharyan this sacrifice was worth it. “He was just like ‘A high school student who is this dedicated and wants to meet already has my respect,’ and that was just a very wholesome moment,” Sharyan said. 

Sharyan is excited for this trip because he is passionate about political science and government, and will potentially study those topics in college. He is especially interested in the tour of the Harvard campus the group takes before Harvard Model Congress actually begins. 

“I’m so excited to meet kids from across the country and participate in this fun activity,” Sharyan said. 

Part of the trip experience outside of the event is a chance to tour the city of Boston and its many significant historical and cultural landmarks. Some of the sites that the group plans to see are the JFK Library, an art museum, the Freedom Trail, Paul Revere’s house, and the MBTA subway system as well as a self-guided tour of Harvard. 

Students also have a chance to explore parts of the city on their own. Nguyen and Moreland are excited to go thrifting and see what the East Coast is like, as neither have been before. 

This chance to see the East Coast is one of the reasons that Mr. Lanaghan continues to take students to the  Boston Harvard Model Congress, despite there being many different Model Congresses to choose from throughout the country. He is also drawn to this location because it is the largest in the country.

“It’s fun when there’s so much energy and so many people and you are meeting people from all over,” Mr. Lanaghan said. This is especially true for La Salle, being the only school from Oregon to attend Harvard Model Congress in Boston. 

La Salle has been offering students the opportunity to attend this event for decades now, and the program has been passed down from teacher to teacher, which is how Mr. Lanaghan came to lead it. 

“The story I have heard is that we originally had a connection, some social studies teacher 30 something years ago knew someone on the East Coast that took students to Harvard Model Congress back when it was first in its infancy and it’s just stuck ever since,” Mr. Lanaghan said. 

What makes this year’s trip significant for Mr. Lanaghan — beyond the fact that it is the first trip since the pandemic — is that it is his 10th time leading it. Mr. Lanaghan likes that this trip is similar every year, but that he has been able to put his own stamp on it. 

“It’s an important part of my experience at La Salle and I want to make sure that this is a tradition that lives on,” Mr. Lanaghan said.

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    David SharyanFeb 21, 2024 at 9:44 pm

    Amazing article!