The peak of our trip came Thursday with a visit to the White House and meeting President Donald Trump.

The day began with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin speaking about his very interesting job. In his position, he has close proximity to the President, and is crucial in shaping the fiscal policy of our nation. Mnuchin explained his previous experience in the private sector and answered several questions about economic policy.

For lunch we traveled to the Senate and listened to a “Democratic Perspective” from Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar. This was the first time I have listened to her speak, and I was very surprised with her authenticity and honesty. She encouraged us to not be afraid of standing alongside members of the opposite side of the aisle in an effort of bipartisanship.

Finally, we went to the White House. This was my first trip to the People’s House, and there were several layers of security to verify who you are, and to check your body for metal and even dangerous chemicals. We toured the East Wing and made our way to the East Room where President Trump and Vice President Mike Pence shook our hands and took a picture with our entire group. First Lady Melania Trump also made a surprise appearance, which was the first time a First Lady has attended this event in the 56 years of this program.

As the President began to exit the room, he informed us that there would “be some good news about North Korea” that night, and said that he thought we would like it. And sure enough, just about an hour after we left the White House, the announcement was made about a meeting between Kim Jong-Un and President Trump.

The day was a clear example of how this program makes history, and why it is such a valuable week of events. Not many people have the opportunity to visit the White House and meet the President, so to be one of those people is extremely humbling.

What I learned

As this outstanding week draws to a close, the experiences and friendships that I have made are truly extraordinary.

Just to have the opportunity to gather with 103 other delegates, the multiple military mentors, and the Hearst Foundation staff members has been incredible. But throughout this trip, we also visited many iconic sites in our nation’s capital and met leaders at the highest levels of our government.

Coming into this last week, I knew that representation from every state is sure to guarantee diverse backgrounds and viewpoints on the issues. However, once we all met each other in person, while there were clear divides between policy ideas, we could unite around the respect that we had for one another as people. It was clear that each and every delegate knew, just as I’m sure all of you feel, that our government is not getting things done. Partisanship has gripped Washington and has made it nearly impossible for our leaders to work with one another to craft common sense solutions to the issues that each citizen in this nation faces. This shared value of respect between all of us delegates established common ground, and enabled a civil discussion to be held.

Also, I’ve always held the military in high regard, and have always viewed our service men and women as heroes of our nation. However, having the opportunity to spend an entire week with over a dozen of the best and brightest across all branches of the military establishes an even greater lens through which I view our military. The knowledge, honor, respect for duty, and compassion shown by the Military Mentors in this program are hard to describe. I had the great pleasure to have Captain Jared Smith from Georgia as my mentor, and while we have only known each other for a week, the lessons he taught me and my fellow delegates represent a much longer span of time, and I am extremely grateful.

The consistent message delivered by judges, senators, and bureaucrats was a message of civility and working together. It is no secret that our nation is very polarized when it comes to politics, but we all can respect the values of others, and through working together and finding common ground are how we move our nation forward and helping bring civility back into America’s political culture.

After personally viewing respectful discourse between the individuals who will one day help lead our nation, I see hope for the future. This week was an eye-opening experience that taught me much more than anything you could learn in a classroom. I see a path forward that restores civility to politics. I see a path forward where leaders are actively working with one another across political lines to develop real solutions. This is a path that certainly won’t be paved overnight, but I am confident that it is on the horizon and waiting for the leaders of the next generation to begin the work ahead.