Recently the GEMS 8th grade had a visit from a very special guest. Senator Patrick Leahy was able to join the group via live teleconference software similar to Skype or FaceTime. He answered student questions ranging from why he went into law and politics to the purpose of his recent Cuba visit to his role in the Batman movies.
The chat with the Senator connected to the recent Constitution and government unit, and his perspective added a new dimension to the learning. A student asked Senator Leahy to describe a typical day. The Senator responded that his days are often full, starting early in the morning and sometimes stretching into the late evening, but his activities change quite a bit from day to day. He described meeting with colleagues, Senate hearings, communicating with constituents, travel to various locations, and even attending the President’s State of the Union address as he had the evening before our chat. The Senator shared his experience working with several Presidents and the relationships he has formed in Washington over the years. He made a point to explain that friendships and relationships are separate from political disagreements in Washington.
When asked about his roles in the Batman movies, the Senator enthusiastically explained that he has been a lifelong fan of the Batman series. He then described his experience acting in the movies and shared some behind the scenes conversations and happenings. Senator Leahy has donated the earnings from his role in the Batman movies to the Montpelier Library.
The tone did get more serious when students asked questions about corporations financing elections and his efforts to ban and remove landmines. The Senator explained his strong disagreement with the Supreme Court decision known as Citizens United, which allows corporations to donate large sums of money to candidates for political office. Senator Leahy explained about the dangers of landmines used in war and the impact they have on innocent civilians many years in the future. He has worked to end the export of landmines from the United States and has been a strong supporter of landmine removal in other countries.
The Senator spent about a half hour with the students and answered 12 of the 20 questions prepared for the chat. The following day Mr. Hadd received an email from an aide to Senator Leahy, expressing that the Senator was very pleased with the chat and how impressed he was with the student questions. The message also contained the answers to the 8 remaining questions. These answers were just as informative as the ones given in the live chat.
One of the these remaining questions asked about the legislation the Senator is working on now, and the Senator responded:
“ I recently reintroduced a bill to reauthorize the lifesaving bulletproof vest partnership grant program, a federal grant program that helps state and local law enforcement agencies purchase bulletproof vests for officers working in the field, and will be working across the aisle with my friend, Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, on this legislation. I will continue to work on banning landmines that can hurt children and adults long after these landmines have been used in wars. Before the 113th Congress ended, I was working to convince the President to sign the international treaty on banning landmines. I am still committed to this goal.”
Student reaction to the chat was overwhelmingly positive. In their reflections, students expressed appreciation for the experience:
“I liked the chat because it was a good chance to get to know the Senator personally and hear about what life is like as a Senator.”
“It was a great opportunity to get to have a chat with him, I also like how his is helping get rid of landmines.”
“I really liked watching my peers ask Senator Leahy the different question and hearing his unique and detailed answers.”
“I was surprised with the humor and the answers we got. The answers weren’t just one or two words.”
“This chat gave me an insight into the world of politics and made me want to get into the world of politics. He also said to go get what you want, and I think that statement meant a lot to me going into high school.”
“He carries a lot of responsibility and has a lot to do, but he took time out of his schedule to talk to us.”