Over the summer, I lived in a dorm with three other students, had late night study sessions with my friends, went through highlighter after highlighter hoping to memorize all the vocabulary words for my next test, and frequented the library, looking up information to craft my term paper, all at Princeton University. But I’m not a student at Princeton, I simply attended JSA’s summer school there, which turned out to be one of the most rewarding experiences of my entire life.
Every year, the Junior State of America holds three summer schools in the United States, and one in Beijing, China. Domestically, the summer schools are held at three universities: Stanford, Georgetown, and Princeton, where I went. While studying at these prestigious institutions, learning from actual college professors, you are fully immersed in the college experience, attending classes for up to seven hours a day, eating at the campus dining hall, and living in a dorm. The classes, as well, are also structured like a college: spending up to five hours a day listening to lectures, doing collaborative lectures, and independent work, with class options including AP Macroeconomics, AP U.S. Government and Politics, International Relations, and Political Speech and Communication. Additionally, unique to Princeton is the Freshman Scholars program, where rising freshmen take a modified version of AP U.S. Government and Politics. Each class has a midterm, a final, and a term paper, also in the vein of college classes.
I challenged myself and a chose a topic I knew next to something about: AP Macroeconomics, and it was certainly challenging, just as all the other classes are, but it was ultimately rewarding. As an aspiring politician, the experience I gained as a result of studying economics was important, as it gave me a glimpse into what concept I would be building on as I continued my education, and as I entered public service. For political enthusiasts and prospective public servants, JSA gives a great foundation on political topics in an environment to ask questions, and explore interesting topics in depth.
However, the aspect I most enjoyed were the debates every night. Following several two hour classes on proper debate etiquette from one of the two political speech and communications professors, all JSA students are reshuffled and divided into four houses for debate. Each night, there are two debates on two different topics, all relating to current events. Each debate is between two main speakers, who make opening statements, and then the moderator opens the floor to questions for the speakers, and then subsequent arguments, where those who hadn’t debated get to make their own arguments for either side. However, in true JSA tradition, the moderator is also a student, and is selected by the students via a vote.
One of the best moments of JSA was when I was voted to be moderator, assuming the responsibility of keeping every debate cordial and respectful. While this seems like a chore, it was actually a privilege, as I was happy to maintain an environment of peaceful political discussion, particularly in a country where such a concept seems to be fleeting.
After completing class and debates, I had also had the privilege to be voted to participate in the “Powerhouse Debate”, where two speakers from each house, believed to be the best debaters in that house, were voted to debate President Trump’s ban on transgender individuals serving in the military. This debate, unlike the previous debates, was performed in front of every student at JSA. This debate, as well as all previous ones, served to help everybody expand their understanding of the issues we are faced with right now, and began a productive dialogue on the Princeton campus between students.
The speakers program also integrated speeches by academic scholars, judges, NGO founders and CEOs, and United Nations officials, discussing First Amendment rights at the Constitutional center, benefits for 9/11 responders, and climate change at the United Nations.
Ultimately, the best part of JSA at Princeton was all the friends that I met. While you may think that spending three weeks on a college campus won’t create lasting friendships, you’d be surprised. I made friends with people as far as China, and as close as New Jersey, many of whom I still talk to today.
If you are up for the academic challenge, I urge all those interested in politics to look into JSA summer school, for the educational opportunity, the intellectual experience, and all the friends that you will meet along the way.
by Louis Gleason, Editor-in-Chief