A person cannot always go to where the biggest news is being made, but for a few students at Benilde-St. Margaret’s, the news came to them in the form of the Republican National Convention. A small group of BSM seniors had a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to stand on the floor of the convention, interview famous politicians, sight Cindy McCain and John Rich, and sit in the same place that President George Bush Senior had sat only the night before.
Though many students complain about the early start of the school year, it actually created the chance for students to attend the convention. Joe Geraghty, a host for the weekly show “Close-up” on C-SPAN, found BSM as a possible school and contacted Mr. Pauly, a social studies teacher. It was because school was already in session that we could have this unique field trip.
This show in which the students played a large role has been broadcast for quite a while; Joe Geraghty has hosted the student-focused show and began to invite the students to the national conventions in 1988. “Normally they are kids who come to Washington for the week but we figured we would include some of the local area high schools… It was such a big hit that we’ve been doing it ever since,” said Mr. Geraghty.
As soon as Mr. Pauly discovered this opportunity for students, he informed all the social studies teachers to tell their students about it. Soon they had a list of 32 students who were interested and prepared to go. Then, on the third day of the convention, the students went and interviewed well-known experts and politicians like Richard Armey, former majority leader, and Nancy Pfotenhauer, a McCain campaign official.
“We came up with questions for them like why do you think that Senator McCain is a stronger candidate than Senator Obama and about health care issues…before I [went] I wasn’t really political… I really just didn’t know anything or care, so I definitely think I will be more interested in politics and I actually liked the journalism. It was fun… [and] inspiring,” said Katie Bauer, a senior who attended the convention.
The students also had close-up contact with each of the speakers even after they spoke: “My favorite moment… was after we got done interviewing Mr. Armey, he came up to me and shook my hand,” said Drew Breyer, another RNC senior.
In addition, many of the adults agreed that BSM was outstanding in their focus and interest during the interviews. “This year we decided to turn the floor shows completely over to the students. [They] asked phenomenal questions and carried the whole show, introduced the guests, closed the program,” said Mr. Garaghty.
During the the filming of the shows, there were often many loud noises, music, or speaking, but the students did not let this interrupt the program. “The students were really well behaved [and] were very much engaged in the process. There were a lot of distractions on the floor, but they didn’t let [them] get in the way of keeping their poise and asking the questions that they prepared,” said Ms. Weisgram, the BSM representative on the trip.
Because the students were so involved in the convention, many of them also were interviewed for several other news stations including Newsweek and Entertainment Tonight. Some strongly portrayed their opinions and were not afraid to speak about what they believed. “At the convention, there were lots of reporters asking us what we thought about the candidates and [other] political questions. [Then] Entertainment Tonight… asked us what we thought of Governor Palin’s daughter and the whole teen pregnancy [issue]. I thought that [the media] should keep their business outside of the political families. No one needs to know that; it’s not part of the process,” said Joe Jetland, an interviewed BSM student.
Several of the other students agreed with him and spoke to the many cameras about what they felt was appropriate in the news, perhaps even affecting what did get broadcast that night.
This event was significant for BSM students and teachers because it is simply so difficult to acquire passes to witness such a nationally-watched convention. “I think it was awe-inspiring to be on the floor of a national convention. We were really fortunate to have one here in the Twin Cities this year and also really great to see how students could step up and have really great questions and really interact with the people who were bringing much more to this process,” said Ms. Weisgram.