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Columbus Gets Close Up in DC

Updated: Feb 14

by Nicholas Diaz

Last week, 10 Explorers attended “Close Up” in Washington DC where they had the opportunity to experience an immersive, week-long trip in the nation’s capital. This annual Columbus tradition, organized by Mr. Hermida, is an opportunity for civic engagement and education for students interested in the fields of government affairs and public service. 

The Close Up Foundation, founded in 1971, is a civic education organization that supports civic participation in students from all backgrounds. This is accomplished through trips such as the six-day Washington DC program. The trip takes students on tours of the capital’s most significant monuments, museums and government buildings, and hosts workshops to get students thinking about some of the nation’s values. 

The Explorers left Miami on Sunday morning and arrived in Washington DC with spare time before the program’s initiation. Students spent that time visiting various museums on the National Mall such as the National Air and Space Museum and the National Gallery of Art. In the afternoon, the program kicked off with a dinner and icebreaker workshop. 

“I remember going into the workshop and not knowing the people in my group, but I quickly made friends and we did a political compass test to get to know each other,” said Bruno Barreiro ‘24.

That week, Close Up hosted students from five different states. This allowed students to discuss how their different backgrounds have influenced their many core values and political views. Students shared their perspectives through debates, group conversations, and other activities led by the program instructors. 

Program instructor Emiliano Sanchez states, “I do the best I can to help you guys get talking to each other and get you guys hanging out with each other and exploring … I put you guys in the position to make your own experiences and memories.” 

The students got opportunities to make these shared memories in visits to the various national monuments and memorials in Washington DC. On Monday, students spent the morning visiting the Jefferson Memorial, Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial, and the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial to reflect on the values of liberty, equality and justice, respectively. 

The Explorers also saw the memorials of the Vietnam War, Korean War and World War II on Tuesday to prompt discussions on the nation’s history with war, peace, and sacrifice. They also discussed the Civil War and the life of Abraham Lincoln at the Lincoln Memorial. 

On Wednesday, the students visited the Washington offices of South Florida representatives Carlos Giménez and Mario Diaz-Balart with Mr. Hermida. Although representatives Giménez and Diaz-Balart were not in office, the students met with Columbus alumni Carlos Castro ‘05, legislative assistant of Gimenez, and Cesar Gonzalez ‘93, Chief of Staff of Diaz-Balart. 

The students also visited the offices of Representative María Elvira Salazar and got the chance to meet Representative Salazar and walk with her to the House of Representatives for an upcoming vote. The students discussed foreign and domestic issues with her and her Chief of Staff Thomas Moran. 

Mr. Hermida later connected the students with former alumni Perry Adair ‘12, Matt Gomez ‘09 and Omar Franco ‘83 for lunch. The alumni discussed their lobbying careers with the students and shared stories about their time at Columbus. 

Adair, who attended Close Up during his senior year, also discussed his experience with Close Up and how it impacted him.

He commented, “Close Up gave me a glimpse into a world I’d only read about in classes like Mr. Lynskey’s and Ms. McCullagh’s. From the meetings we had with lawmakers to the internal events we had with my classmates and students from other schools, Close Up allowed us to connect and debate issues that I now deal with nearly every day as a lawyer and a lobbyist.”

He also praised Close Up as a great educational opportunity for students interested in civics and politics.  

Later that afternoon, the students visited the Senate Gallery and got the chance to watch the Senate voting process take place right in front of them. 

Antonio Iglesias ‘24 said. “It was very cool to watch them vote and see senators such as Marco Rubio and Mitch McConnell there.” 

That night, Close Up took the students to the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts to watch the show "Sheer Madness," an improvised murder mystery show that features interaction with the audience. It was a unique opportunity for the students to enjoy DC culture and develop relationships with others. 

After the show, Kane Powell expressed appreciation for this social opportunity, stating, “This isn’t just a program to me… It is me getting to make a lifetime of memories with the best people.” 

On Thursday or the last full day of Close Up activities, the students visited Lafayette Square in front of the White House and Arlington Cemetery. They spoke with protestors in the square and paid their respects to those in the cemetery while discussing the future direction of the nation with their workshop groups. 

On Thursday night, the students enjoyed a farewell dinner and dance organized by Close Up.

Martin Seals stated, “The dance was like the cherry on top of it all. After all the learning we’ve done we get to come back together, socialize, and create some great memories together with people we know from all over the country.”

The students traveled back to Miami on Friday after visiting some final destinations around the capital, ready to enjoy a relaxing Super Bowl weekend after an intense week of getting close up to civic and political life in Washington DC. 

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