Eleven students from different schools in the CNMI took part in the Close-Up Insular Program in Washington, D.C. from May 13 to 28, joining other students from different states, territories, and Palau in an educational tour of the nation’s capital, Williamsburg, Arlington, Philadelphia, and New York City.
The eleven students from the CNMI were Sharon Calamaan, Sara Keaton, Zenn Tomokane, and Amira De Guzman of Marianas High School; Jimmina Flamar of Kagman High School; Tammy Fernandez of Rota’s Dr. Rita H. Inos Jr./Sr. High School; Andrew Sunderland and Elyza Pamintuan of Saipan Southern High School; Ismail Hossain of Tinian Jr./Sr. High School; Tiana Cabrera of Saipan International School; and Ryan Quitano of Da’ok Academy. They were accompanied by PSS Close-Up adviser Vinni Orsini and Patricia Sablan from MHS.
The Close-Up Program aims to teach students about government by showing them new places and meeting different people that makes the government possible. The program also gives students a chance to practice being future government leaders and to listen to each other’s voices.
While in Washington, D,C., the students toured different sites and memorials with significance to U.S. history, including the U.S. Capitol, Lincoln Memorial, and Arlington National Cemetery. Students also got the chance to meet with Delegate Gregorio Kilili C. Sablan (Ind-MP).
“The location that I probably loved the most was Capitol Hill. I loved that location the most because I got to meet Rep. Kilili Sablan and I also got to see the inside of the Capitol building,” said Pamintuan.
“My favorite and most memorable place I enjoyed going to was the memorial for the Vietnam War because the view was amazing and the drawings explained the war very well and the statutes. Not only did it bring peace, but it reminded me of my grandpa a lot since he was part of the war,” Cabrera said.
It wasn’t all just touring, though. At the end of the day, the students would discuss what they’ve learned and take part in activities that focused on the sites they visited. One notable activity was the Mock Congress, where students were given issues that they debated. Once a decision is made, the students would draft laws of their own and vote on whether the law should be passed.
“One important idea[s] I took away from the workshops is that most decisions are not clear-cut at all. In fact, many of them have compromises for upsides and downsides. Everyone knows this, but I think it was important to see this type of idea in action ourselves as students,” said Sunderland. “Our discussion was about climate change, and multiple options were given to us in groups for us to decide how we would enact policies that would affect the whole nation. Everything had pros and cons, forcing us to debate our positions on what policies were more effective than others. It was surely a learning experience for everyone.”
In their final week, the students toured Colonial Williamsburg, Philadelphia’s Independence Hall/Liberty Bell, and multiple locations around New York City such as the Statue of Liberty and the 9/11 Memorial.
“My experiences from the program have pushed me into wanting to assert more action [on] my island because I feel like my generation has the voice and courage to change many of the issues that Saipan suffers through,” said Calamaan.
Many of the students later described the trip as memorable and life-changing. We asked what he thought was most memorable, Quitano said, “The people I was surrounded [with]. My group and the other island groups made those unfamiliar waters easier to sail through. We started bare but built a support structure that could lift us all.”
Amira De Guzman said that what made the trip memorable for her “were the friends I made throughout the entirety of it. I was able to meet wonderful and intellectual people from places I’ve never been to, and I was able to have deeper bonds with the CNMI group.”
The students also enjoyed the locations they visited. “The Smithsonian Museum of National History is my favorite! I was roaming around when I stumbled upon stone money. Being Yapese, this made me so emotional. I was so happy. happy beyond words. It was such an honor!” said Flamar.
The chaperones too expressed appreciation for being able to go on this trip. “I enjoyed the various personalities the students had. They made the discussion and field trip enjoyable because they were so varied and personable,” said Orsini.“I want to see the students in this trip give the experience to learn about the CNMI’s government for their peers in the islands. I want to see them lead a forum or a field trip using places on their own islands to teach students about government.”
Sablan, who has lived in Washington, D.C. for nearly five years while in college, said she always hoped to see students experience what she did, and being a chaperone allowed her to do so. “Seeing the students’ faces light up with wide-eyed wonder at the new sights, and observing all their experiences (both the good and the bad) are memories that will always linger in my heart. Having been able to witness some of the CNMI’s brightest youths learn and grow so much in just two weeks was such an honor.”
The Close-Up Program plans on sending new students next year to represent the islands in Washington D.C. as well as hosting an islandwide conference for those that are interested on this opportunity.
“To future Close-Up Program students, be yourself no matter what others may have to say about you. And make sure to have fun!” said Tomokane.
Fernandez said, “I would really encourage upcoming students to join the program because you get so many different opportunities to see things that you wouldn’t really get the chance to see coming from the islands.” (Ismail Hossain and Zenn Tomokane)