During a trip to Washington, D.C., the Hamilton High School West Government and Law-Related Experiences class had a chance to meet U.S. Vice President Mike Pence in Statuary Hall of the Capitol Building March 16, 2017. Pictured with Pence (center with green tie) are Rep. Chris Smith, Daniel Tilson, teachers Anthony Tessein and Christine Marks, and GALRE students Christian Blanco, Paola Bossi, Alyssa Bowling, Edward Cuomo, Reidgee Dimanche, Scott Dunscomb, Christy Eike, Donovan Fisher, Charles Geiger, Kyle Harrington, Madalyn McDonald, Melanie Meara, Danny Paredes, Desiree Ramos, Lia Sierra-Vitera, Victor Spera, Caila Williford-Stockton and McKenna Wolcott.

The Hamilton High West GALRE (Government and Law Related Experiences) class’s annual trip to Washington, D.C. was full of surprises from the beginning.

Each year, the class takes a three day trip to Washington, and takes advantage of everything D.C. has to offer, from the monuments to exploring the Georgetown Historic District. But, this year, what was originally scheduled as a 3-day trip had to be suddenly cut short because of the unexpected winter storm that hit the Northeast on March 14. This sudden change in plans caused the class to miss many special events and tours that we were very much looking forward to, but thankfully this shortened trip also caught the attention of our congressman, Rep. Chris Smith.

In the early stages of planning for the trip, the Hamilton West GALRE teacher, Anthony Tessein, got in contact with Congressman Smith’s offices and inquired if he would be available for a tour of the capitol building while we were in town. The chances of this happening were slim to none, the Congressman does not usually do personal tours, but when he found out about our shortened trip, he felt compelled to go the extra mile for our class to attempt to make up for some of the things we would be missing. Usually, if the Congressman decides to meet with a class at all, it is for a short time in a special room and not a very personal experience, but that is opposite of what Hamilton High West’s GALRE received.

So, on March 16, the class embarked to the Capitol building, and arrived there to heightened security in the already secure building. We soon learned that the heightened security was because of the appearance of President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence inside the capitol building for a special St. Patrick’s Day luncheon. As soon as the class heard the rumors of the president and vice president being in the building, we all began to joke about meeting one of the men, never thinking in our wildest thoughts that this could actually come true. But they did.

After we entered the building, Congressman Smith met our class and began to walk us deeper into the Capitol, talking and interacting with us throughout the way. He pointed out famous spots and provided us answers to questions we had. While every other school or group’s tour was being led by a tour guide, we had our very own congressman leading the way, which made the experience all the more memorable and special. Smith walked with us for over 20 minutes before the tour began to end. The last stop in our tour with the congressman was the old Senate chambers, which is now a large room immediately before making your way into the new chambers. This is where our class met the Vice President of the United States.

The class was taking in the beauty of the space and asking questions about the room we were in, when suddenly large amounts of security and people came walking out, with Mike Pence among them. The congressman immediately went up to him for us and asked if he could quickly meet with our class, which he promptly did. It would have been very easy for a man of such importance to quickly brush aside my classmates and I, but Pence did not do this. He was very respectable and polite when meeting with us. He shook hands with many of my classmates hands and posed for pictures with us, taking time out of his obviously very busy schedule. It was a very brief but memorable encounter.

The tour from a congressman was a rarity in itself, but being able to also meet the current vice president while on tour of the Capitol building is unheard of. It was most definitely the highlight of our exciting and jammed packed trip to Washington, something that I doubt the other GALRE classes to come will be able best anytime soon.

Alyssa Bowling is a member of the Hamilton High School West GALRE class.