August 21, 2019
Aug. 21, 2019—Angela Zhong was simply looking for a cool opportunity over the summer and something a little outside of her comfort zone.
The incoming senior at Cypress Woods High School found just that about 1,000 miles away from home. Zhong was selected to and participated in the National High School Student Congress, an immersive summer program sponsored by the Henry Clay Center for Statesmanship and hosted by Transylvania University in Lexington, Kentucky. Fifty rising seniors across the country came together for the program, held June 11-15 at no cost to the participants.
Students met and worked alongside lawmakers, local officials, journalists and academic and business leaders to learn of the political legacy of Henry Clay, the famed former legislator known for his ability to bring differing sides together. The immersion program focused on different dimensions of politics and public policy, with each year’s theme centered around the experiences of Clay, including Constitutional amendments and international conflict negotiation. Participants were challenged to engage in dialogue with their peers, looking at both sides of an issue to come together for the common good.
“I really wanted to try this because my normal thing is debate,” said Zhong, who was named a National Speech & Debate Association Exemplary Student Service Award finalist in the spring in addition to being selected to the 12-member USA Debate Development Team. “This was similar enough that was able to come in with some understanding, but different enough that it pushed me out of my comfort zone a little.”
While the congress participants did engage in debates, Zhong said it differed from other events in that normally a debate participant takes one side of an issue. Clay was known as the “Great Compromiser” for his role in bringing opposing sides together and defusing crisis, most notably helping end the Nullification Crisis in 1832 and helping pass the Compromise of 1850.
“We had to learn both sides of different disputes and the topic our group focused on this year was immigration,” Zhong said. “It’s all a sort of compromise and I found that interesting because in debate I would have to take one side or the other.
“With compromise, it’s about listening to the other side. Having that civil discourse and being able to see both sides is something I think a lot of people in the speech and debate community can take away.”
Zhong said she also enjoyed meeting and visiting with legislators and lawmakers, especially with the program bringing in officials from differing government parties and affiliations. She has already recommended the summer program to others.
“I think anyone can take something out of it,” she said. “Not everyone in the program was in speech and debate and I’m sure they had the same experiences.”