High School Leaders

PODCAST: Steve Bragaw, HSLP09 Graduation
Aug 5 2009 - 1:40pm


Sorensen faculty member Steve Bragaw had these words to say at the High School Leaders Program Class of 2009 graduation.

HSLP 2009: Day 14, July 24
Jul 25 2009 - 10:22am

High School Leaders Program Class of 2009
Day 14— Friday, July 24
Reported by: Ben Swanson, Vienna

     After a week of 7:30 AM wake ups, 8 hour classes, and a budget game that almost drove us apart, we got to sleep in. Wake up time?  9 AM! But the extra sleep was not the highlight of the morning; today was the grand finale of our Sorensen experience.  At about 10 AM the thirty of us trudged across the lawn, ready to persuade a panel of judges that our policies were the best options that the government had in terms of fixing-up our dear commonwealth.  It may have been the effort we put into our papers, the hours we had spent in the library, or the classy business professional attire we wore into the Rotunda; whatever it was, it worked.  We sailed through the presentations in about two hours and with a sigh of relief, we trudged onward to the classroom for our very last round of speakers.
     After a quick lunch of Chick-Fil-A, we met with Steven Jones, a graduate of Longwood University and the executive director of Virginia 21.  After telling us a couple of anecdotes about his experiences with Sorensen, he got down to business and explained what Virginia 21 was.  Essentially, Virginia 21 is a student organization that encourages the young generation to become informed about the issues that are influencing the way we live our lives.  They are a partisan-neutral "action tank" that gets students the facts and turns regular voters into active citizens.  With branches all over the state in Universities and Community Colleges, Virginia 21 is "acting today to shape tomorrow".
     Next we met with Dave Norris, the mayor of Charlottesville.  He gave us a new perspective on how the local community is effected by policy enacted on the local level of government.  People tend to overlook the local government, he explained, and it's a good voter turnout even if only 25% of the electorate turns out on election day to help elect local officials.  He seemed like a great guy and I truly wish him luck as he runs for re-election in the near future.
     The rest of the day consisted of our traditional game of Ultimate Disc on the lawn.  It was a huge turnout, and I even got to play with some people that I hadn't had the chance to interact with very much during the last two weeks.
     I've just realized that this is the last newsroom blog that will be written for our HSLP class 2009.  I've got to make this a good wrap-up, but I'm kind of scared that I won't be able to put into words what I really think about the last two weeks.  They have been amazing.  Pulling into Bice Hall in my mom's car, I was curious about the kind of people I would meet and the kind of memories I would take away from this program.  But after the first two days, I knew it would be two of the best weeks of my life.  I have taken advantage of the opportunity of a lifetime and I will be proud to wear my Sorensen pin around whenever I throw on my suit.  Aside from the political side of this program I have made some incredible friends, run harder for a frisbee than I ever did for my school bus, laughed harder than I did all year, and walked down to the UVa Corner just to grab some Ice cream and feel Charlottesville. I tried to think of things to criticize when I filled out my end of the program survey, but I came up with nothing.  This has been an incredible ride and I know everyone is going to miss this place as much as I already do.

—Ben Swanson, Vienna

HSLP 2009: Day 13, July 23
Jul 24 2009 - 10:36am

High School Leaders Program Class of 2009
Day 13— Thursday, July 23
Reported by: Corrigan Blanchfield, Williamsburg

     Today we said goodbye to our beloved second-story classroom in Thornton Hall. Though two weeks of little-to-no sleep may have had an effect on some, this concluding class was one of our most involved and exciting, allowing us to forget how much we would like to be in bed.
     In class, we split into groups and analyzed accounts of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA)'s transformation into the No Child Left Behind Act. After that, we discussed under which circumstances  the federal government should intervene to keep a business from failing, using bailouts of Lockheed and Chrysler as examples. After the final section of our “The Thoughtful Citizen” class, we adjourned for lunch and then reconvened for the Budget Game. Similar to a Model United Nations conference, we split into two groups, the House of Delegates and the Senate to prepare and balance a state budget, starting with a mandatory deficit of $1 billion. While the House quickly prepared their budget,  the Senate took quite a bit of time, essentially slashing spending across the board to avoid an income tax hike. After each house prepared its own budget, we divided into two conference committees to iron out differences. Finally, we came back together and voted between the two final budget proposals, the first of which was passed.
     We were able to leave Thornton because we had finished the Budget Game quickly, so we hurried to Bice to practice our presentations for our culminating project. At 7:00, we presented our projects to the floor managers and received a lot of helpful feedback. Each of the managers offered great advice, making the groups feel much more prepared for tomorrow's presentations. After that, it was back to work to finalize our projects, since we're presenting them starting at 10:00 AM tomorrow before our classmates, our teachers, and others who have not yet been revealed.
     All that remains for us now is the presentation, which I must admit has me more than a little worried. It's hard to believe that Sorensen is nearing it's end, even though I can hardly remember when I first met my roommates on the 11th. However, I think that what we've learned here and the contacts we've made will last long beyond Saturday's graduation.
—Corrigan Blanchfield, Williamsburg

HSLP 2009: Day 13, July 23
Jul 24 2009 - 10:32am

High School Leaders Program Class of 2009
Day 13— Thursday, July 23
Reported by: Catherine Haley, Danville

     After two full weeks of class and speakers, today we had our last official day of class.  The effects of sleep deprivation caught up with some, but despite the nodding off, our last class was an effective and heated one to say the least.
     The first half of class with Professor Bragaw began with the question “What did you find surprising or difficult about forming a policy?”  Since we have been working on our culminating project and preparing policy proposals, the class all tended to agree that we did not realize proposing policies was as difficult as it turned out to be.  The complexities and compromises needed to form these proposals was indeed a surprise.  I know without the help of our project manager, Joe, my education group would have not become aware of some problems and complexities that our proposal had.  After this, the class split into groups and worked on case studies.  The education case study we did dealt with the change of education over the years from the NESA to the No Child Left Behind Act.  Each group was assigned questions to analyze the change and what contributed that change.
     We finished with about 20 minutes to spare before lunch, so Marc and Professor Bragaw explained how the “Budget Game” would work.  The class was split into the House of Delegates and the Senate.  During lunch we decided on spending, reductions, and revenue options.  I was in the House of Delegates and Corrigan and Whitney were nominated to be the chair and the recorder.  After about an hour of debate over tax cuts and spending we completed our proposed budget.  On the other hand, the Senate took quite a long time to come to a consensus on their budget.  Next, each group was split into two “conferences.”  My conference consisted of six senators and ten delegates.  The House presented their proposed budget, and then the Senate presented theirs.  To our surprise we agreed on more than we thought we would— although the things we did not agree on took some time to sort out.  After about an hour of heated debate, we accomplished the goal of a balanced budget.  The entire class reconvened and each group presented their proposed budget.  Finally, the entire class voted on which budget they preferred and…budget A won! (which just so happened to be the group I was in).
     After a day in the classroom, we returned back to Bice to eat dinner and prepare for our practice project presentations.  Each group would present their project to the project managers and April.  We were warned that we would be “grilled” with questions to prepare us for the real thing.
     It is hard to believe that these two weeks are coming to an end, but the friends we have made and the lessons we have learned will be ones that will last forever.  Tomorrow is the big day for the much-anticipated projects presentations, but I am certain everyone will do great!
—Catherine Haley, Danville

HSLP 2009: Day 12, July 22
Jul 23 2009 - 2:02pm

High School Leaders Program Class of 2009
Day 12— Wednesday July 22
Reported By: Trevor Langan of Patrick Henry High School, Roanoke

     This morning my alarm clock woke me up properly, rather than yesterday when it failed to go off. However, today’s alarm was earlier than most for today was our field trip to Richmond.  In fact, all of us woke up on time and loaded the bus in business professional attire before our executive director, Bob Gibson.
     Once we got to the Capitol Building, we made our way through security (but not before my tie clip set off the metal detector) and into a committee chamber which became our lecture room for the day.
     Our first speaker was Don Hall – the most successful lobbyist in Richmond.  Don represents the Virginia Auto Dealer Association (for the purpose of full disclosure, Mr. Hall drives a Corvette Z06).  He gave an enthusiastic presentation in which he repeatedly stated, “You can disagree without being disagreeable.”
     Our next speaker was Ms. Lucy Hutchinson from the office of gubernatorial appointments.  She gave a talk about her position and how students my age can serve on a number of different committees in youth positions.
     Next, we were joined by Randy Marcus – chief of staff for the office of Lieutenant Governor, Bill Bolling.  He concentrated his discussion on campaigning, by request of Mr. Gibson.  I found his talk to be informative to the specifics of campaign advertising.
     After lunch, we were treated to a tour of the Capitol by a very charismatic guide.  He explained the history of the building that was designed in Paris by Mr. Thomas Jefferson.  While in Presidents’ Hall, he told us that any of us who become president can have our own bust sit amongst the ones already decorating the walls.
     Following the tour, we made our way back to the lecture hall.  Three more speakers came and joined us – Pat Mullins, Attorney General Bill Mims, and Will Frank.  Pat, chair of the Republican party of Virginia, spurred an intense discussion during his Q&A.
     As exciting as the events I’ve so far described may have seen, I failed to mention the most momentous one of all.  During lunch, our wonderful program managers quickly came to rush us back into the committee room.  There was a rumor that a certain someone was in the building and may be stopping by to say “hello.”  That someone turned out to be the Democratic candidate for the office of the governor – Sen. Creigh Deeds.  We were so glad to be able to ask a few questions and to shake his hand.  He gives the impression of a genuine person who really wants to help the citizens of the Commonwealth.  I heard many of my peers wish him good luck in the upcoming election.
—Trevor Langan, Roanoke

HSLP 2009: Day 12, July 22
Jul 23 2009 - 1:22pm

High School Leaders Program Class of 2009
Day 12— Wednesday, July 22
Reported by: Claire Hunn of Yorktown High School, Arlington

     Today was one of the best days in the High School Leaders Program because we were able to take a trip to Richmond, Virginia, our state’s capital.  While in Richmond, we met with numerous leaders within the Commonwealth who were not only informative but very engaging!            
     Our first speaker, Mr. Don Hall, a lobbyist for the Virginia Automotive Industry, explained to us the responsibilities and functions of his job and the measures he takes when trying to persuade the legislature.  The most memorable aspect of Mr. Hall’s speech, to me, was how he pointed out that lobbyists “persuade with compelling arguments but are not disagreeable.”  That quote stood out to me because I feel that many people have the wrong impressions of lobbyists and their intentions.
     Our second speaker, Ms. Lucy Hutchinson, taught us about gubernatorial appointments.  Ms. Hutchinson works in the Secretary of the Commonwealth’s office, where they are responsible for commissioning notaries, authenticating international documents, authorizing the use of the Commonwealth seal, regulating and registering all lobbyists, administering conflict of interest laws, handling warrants, and restoring rights.  Ms. Hutchinson also shared with us the many opportunities that we have, as youths and adults, to have a seat on some of the state’s boards.  Ms. Hutchinson herself works on the boards of transportation, public safety, health and human resources.  She shared with us that there are about 450 boards that the residents of Virginia can apply for a seat on.
    The highlight of the day was meeting with the Democratic candidate for Governor, Creigh Deeds! Mr. Deeds was so kind to spare a few minutes to share with us why he is running for Governor and how the qualities and experience he has are the best for Virginia!
     Mr. Pat Mullins, the Chairman of the Republican Party of Virginia, was also so kind to come speak with us. Mr. Mullins shared with us his extensive experience in politics and how with his leadership, Fairfax County, a very liberal area in Northern Virginia, supported Governor Allen and helped him win his race for Governor of Virginia.  Mr. Mullins also shared with us how he, with the Republican Party of Virginia, has been trying to talk with Governor Kaine about his time out of the state as Chairman of the Democratic National Committee.
     Attorney General Bill Mims also spoke to us about the current problems in Virginia and how he and the current nominees for Attorney General are proposing to fix them.  Mr. Randy Marcus came and told us about campaigning and more specifically how messaging can win an election.  Mr. Will Frank also spoke to us about working in politics and his career path as both a campaign fundraiser and lobbyist.
     We were extremely lucky to have such great speakers and to have the opportunity to take a tour of the Capitol.  This experience was so special to both me and my Sorensen classmates, as many of us would never have been given the opportunity to meet such influential politicians and visit our state’s capitol!

—Claire Hunn, Arlington

HSLP 2009: Day 11, July 21
Jul 22 2009 - 1:10pm

High School Leaders Program Class of 2009
Day 11— Tuesday, July 21
Reported by: Evan Maxwell, St. Christopher’s School, Midlothian

     Today, on this cool Tuesday morning, I was awoken was a sudden rapping at my door and a voice shouting “Guys, wake up! Let’s go!” I looked down at my cell phone and found, to my horror, that it was already 8:30. I was already late. Two minutes later, I was downstairs and ready to go with my “business casual” polo and khakis. Thankfully I had not been the only participant late, so the inevitable reprimand from our floor manager, Joe, was not directed specifically at me.
     I then powerwalked to Professor Stephen Bragaw’s class, with banana and Coke Zero in tow, an interesting combination, I might add. In Professor Bragaw’s class, The Thoughtful Citizen, we learned about potential difficulties policy can face when being proposed. Professor Bragaw then pulled down the projector to show us several maps, some of which displayed economic and life expectancy data. Professor Bragaw then explained how these maps can be misleading and can be used to manipulate opinion.
     For lunch, much to everyone’s pleasure and excitement, we had pizza from Mellow Mushroom. After our fantastic feast, we sat down with Coy Barefoot of NewsRadio 1070AM WINA to do mock radio interviews. Mr. Barefoot informed us of various techniques radio hosts use to get interviewees off message. I volunteered to do the first radio interview, and while I may be somewhat biased, I believe I did a good job. My favorite quote from today easily comes from our own, Benjamin Bakkum, who said during his own radio interview with Mr. Barefoot “Don’t be coy with me, Mr. Barefoot.”
     Our next speaker was Toby Quaranta, the executive director of the Virginia Young Democrats. He spoke about how he got involved in politics and ways for us to get internships and jobs in politics.
     Once Mr. Quaranta’s presentation had completed, Connie Jorgensen started hers.  Mrs. Jorgensen explained to our group in depth how the legislature works. We learned many strategies and tactics about passing legislation that was not sung in Schoolhouse Rock’s How a Bill Becomes a Law.
     While consuming kebabs during dinner, I thought about our excursion to Richmond that will happen tomorrow. I am excited to return to my home city for a day, and hear from my former boss, Mr. Don Hall, who will speak to us about lobbying. Overall, I have very much enjoyed HSLP, and look forward to the last few days before graduation on Saturday.

—Evan Maxwell, Midlothian

HSLP 2009: Day 11, July 21
Jul 22 2009 - 11:40am

High School Leaders Program Class of 2009
Day 11— Tuesday, July 21
Reported by: Maria Decker, Falls Church

   As my roommate and I were stumbling in our usual morning fashion, trying to get ready on time, we heard an urgent knocking on the door.  It was the rest of our group for the Culminating Project and the memory of the night before came stinking back; we had spent six hours in a row on that first draft!  They informed us as they grabbed the zip drive from the table that we had forgotten to email it to the program managers.  Oops.
     And so, after some running, glaring, and quick typing, we sprinted downstairs to find the rest of the HSLP amiably discussing their papers.  I, frankly, didn't want to keep talking about it as the paper had all but haunted my dreams.  Yet as we started our morning session of The Thoughtful Citizen, I found the topic of policy-making mocking me from the board.  It was a fun lesson, I'll admit, but I only wish I had learned those skills yesterday... before writing the paper.
     After a quick lunch break (mine was not so quick as I was carefully attempting to eat barbecue chicken pizza in a white skirt), we reconvened with Coy Barefoot.  Now, it's no secret that Mr. Barefoot is a favored speaker among the students this year, so we were all glad to have him back.  He set up mock radio interviews to help us with our public speaking - unfortunately, the topic was, once again, our projects.  It was a lot of fun though!  After listening to us explain our policies, he took on the roles of the usual radio host personalities: the far-left or far-right host, the off-topic host, the harping-on-the-tiny-details host, etc.  We then had the task of returning to topic and continuing to promote our policy.
     We had a small break from the project-talk with Toby Quaranta from the Virginia Young Democrats, who shared his expertise on internships and his experience with the Human Rights Campaign. The last speaker, Connie Jorgensen, took us back to the politics of the legislative process. Before I had time to even mentally complain, however, she shared with us a resolution she proposed to apologize for Virginia's involvement in the Eugenics movement.
     Most people hadn't even heard of it.  When they did, they were shocked.  After the explanation, my paper didn't seem so bad.  In fact, the legislative process seemed all the more important, and it really gave us a new perspective.
     Arduous projects and long readings aside, Sorensen truly is a place of opportunity and acceptance.  The respect, both political and general, that we have learned for each other will translate into every aspect of our lives; and together I think we can create a better Virginia and a better world, where ethics is the highest priority.  In sharing a story of deep regret, Ms. Jorgensen gave us the task of never letting elitism and bigotry threaten the liberties of the people.  If that starts with a 15-page policy proposal, so be it.

—Maria Decker, Falls Church

HSLP 2009: Day 10, July 20
Jul 21 2009 - 11:23am

High School Leaders Program Class of 2009
Day 10— Monday, July 20
Reported by: Megi Hakobjanyan, Mechanicsville

     My alarm went off at 7:30am. Catherine and I completely ignored it. See after a long, relaxed and fun weekend, it is very hard to wake up at 7:30 especially since Brea Thomas with her marvelous voice did not let us sleep till 2am. Anyways, we made it out of the bed, got dressed, had breakfast and we were out of the doors by 8:30.
       Our schedule said that we had class lecture from 9am till 12pm. Of course everybody’s first reaction was “Oh dear Lord…” But professor Steve Bragaw managed to keep us engaged and interested the whole three hours of the class. Personally I enjoy his classes very much. It is so interesting. We talk about things that you think you already know about, but when he asks us questions you really realize how much you don’t know and how much you are actually learning here. It is a weird feeling to explain. That feeling that you are getting so much smarter in those three hours.
     For example, today we were talking about policy making. I have already learned about policy making in my high school government class, but today I got to learn about it in a complete different way. Today I got to learn about the thinking that goes into policy making. It is not just set steps that you do to create a policy. There is a philosophical thinking that goes into each step. Then from policy making we started to talk about equality. That was when the professor brought in two delicious looking and tasting brownie pans with fresh brownies and gave us the simplest directions. “Split the two pans of brownies amongst yourselves.”  It took us 10 minutes, but afterwards everyone was happily eating a fair share of their brownie. Then the discussion changed to equity, efficiency, security and liberty. Again, I thought I knew about all of those words, but today all of us got to know the deep meaning behind these words and their connections to our every-day decision-making process.
     After a nice lunch, we all returned to the class room and met with Charlottesville Chief of Police Tim Longo. He was probably the funniest and at the same time the most touching speaker we had. He changed the way I viewed the police department in general. I never knew that policemen try so hard to open communication lines with all of the citizens, and gain their trust. I think we were all amazed by the amount of passion that Chief Longo put in his work, and the amount of dedication he had to reach every member of his community.
     If you ever want to get involved in a political campaign and be politically active, Michael Snook is the person to go to for advice. He has been politically active most of his life, and he shared with us the steps you can take to be effective in someone’s campaign. Of course the best way is to go door to door, which is not very pleasant, but always effective.
            As rain was pouring down outside, Karen Kobler, our next speaker rushed to the classroom. Our topic was fundraising— or in other words, the most essential part of political campaigns. Karen Kobler was very entertaining and fun. We learned how little tactics and moves can get you a long way and help you raise any amount of money you want. It is very simple. You find the cause you want to fundraise for; you find the people who you are going to talk to; find the most personal way to reach those people; you ask for the specific amount; and last but not least, you thank them no matter what. Very simple lesson, but probably one of the most valuable ones.
     So this was the second Monday of Sorensen. As the days are going by, we all can not believe how fast the time is moving. I guess, it is true, that time flies when you are having fun.

—Megi Hakobjanyan, Mechanicsville

HSLP 2009: Day 10, July 20
Jul 21 2009 - 11:15am

High School Leaders Program Class of 2009
Day 10— Monday, July 20
Reported by: John DeVilbiss, Radford

    Once again I woke up this morning in the tiny cramped dorm room and to the now common call of this random rooster. I see an ironic connection to Henry Thoreau's Walden. "I do not propose to write an ode to dejection, but to brag as lustily as chanticleer in the morning, standing on his roost, if only to wake my neighbors up." I feel that is an appropriate quote to describe my experience. I have only been here one week, a mere drop in the pond compared to Thoreau's two-year learning experience but what I have learned is comparable.
     The wilderness of politics is massive. Every day I am woken up with a new fact, statistic, and tool for life.  The day starts with a simple breakfast and we set off to explore at about 9. We stay seated most of the day until 5, but when you are busy thinking about political ethics, the day goes by quickly— especially when you are processing some of the startling problems of the real world. We stay pretty clean in our professional attire (except at lunch). On the contrary, the debates require you to get pretty dirty; not in the sense of disrespect, but down to the nitty gritty.
     The Sorensen Institute really enforces and makes you embrace the fact that it is unacceptable to be disrespectful when arguing an issue. The issues are separate of the person. That’s what politics is about, the issues. Another important point they teach is that you may not win every argument, but it is important to see both sides, after all that can help you win. Finally, just losing one battle doesn’t mean you lost the war, there is whole area of issues to fight for and against.
     This past week has been filled with so much more than just prime principals but how to make these principals aware to the public. There has been good food, good times and good people. I have been to summer camps and programs every summer for most of my life, and I have never had an experience like this. I wish I could have done this every summer, and I’m pretty set on trying the College Leaders Program here. Some of our speakers were graduates of this one-of-a-kind school. Each one is an exemplary and impeccable member of their community and actually making a difference. Everyone should have this experience because there is nowhere else can you learn the politics of politics except at the Sorensen Institute.
— John DeVilbiss, Radford

Featured Alumni

  • Chuck Smith.jpg

    Chuck Smith

    Political Leaders Program

    Class of 2005

    Chuck is a self-employed attorney and current candidate for Virginia Beach City Council. He is a a former Marine and U.S. Navy JAG Officer (Retired). From 2006 to 2008, Chuck served as Chairman of the Republican Party of Virginia Beach.