Archives for February 2017

London Christmas Lights and More by Diana Morales


In December of 2016, I traveled to Italy and London, spending roughly a week in each country. I spent the entire day after my last final packing for what I believed would be an unforgettable experience. The very next day, I departed from Fort Smith, AR, and was on my way to Italy. Italy brought back joyful memories while offering new and exciting experiences.

Once I arrived in Rome, I promptly made my way to Vatican City to get a ticket from the Swiss Guards to the Papal Audience that would be held at the Paul VI Audience Hall. By the time I got to the Bronze Doors to attain a ticket, the sun had set leaving St. Peter’s Square illuminated by the beautiful large Christmas tree at the center. The morning of the General Audience I watched for two hours as the Audience Hall filled with people from all over the world carrying flags and singing a variety of songs. Listening to Pope Francis address the audience with the charisma I have frequently seen through his televised speeches was beautiful to say the least. As if getting to see Pope Francis was not enough on its own, everyone in the audience was informed that Pope Francis’ birthday was the following Saturday and close to the end of the event, a large portion of the crowd began singing Las Mañanitas (a Spanish birthday song). There are truly no words to describe that breathtaking moment. While this was absolutely one of the highlights of my experience in Italy, there was a multitude of other sights to see.

xmas lights

I spent a week visiting some of the most beautiful overlooks Italy had to offer: from Janiculum hill, a hill with a view of central Rome, to the top of St. Peter’s Basilica Dome from which there is a stunning view of all of St. Peter’s Square. I also had a chance to visit the typically more touristic attractions such as the Trevi Fountain, the Colosseum, Palatine Hill, and the Piazza del Popolo. While in Florence, I was even treated to an unexpected show called F-Light Firenze in which the city videomapped several masterpieces from Van Gogh, Caravaggio, Raphael, Andy Warhol, and other artists onto the world-famous Ponte Vecchio. Florence never disappoints, and neither does the gelato.

From there, my adventures continued in London. If I had to name one thing I loved the most about London, it would absolutely be how stunning the city looked covered in Christmas lights for the holiday season. I walked down Carnaby Street enjoying the “You Say You Want A Revolution? Records and Rebels 1966-1970” light exhibition and continued on to the magical light display throughout Oxford Street.

A day trip to Salisbury, about an hour away from London, was just enough time to visit Stonehenge, a prehistoric landmark, and the surrounding town. Unfortunately, The Making of Harry Potter Studio Tour was booked full for the next few months while I was there, so my only option of doing something Harry Potter related was visiting the Platform 9 ¾ shop at King’s Cross Station. While there, a young man took the opportunity to propose to his girlfriend in front of the trolley replica available for pictures and the station promptly erupted into cheers for the happy couple. What better way to end a wonderful trip than by going to Winter Wonderland in Hyde Park, a magical festivity that has an open-air ice rink, a circus, rides, a Christmas market, and food from all over the world. Walking around Hyde Park and watching as everyone had a very winter wonderful night out was an unforgettable experience. Overall, you could say I was more than impressed with London’s Christmas light exhibitions.


Civil Discourse in D.C. What (Not) to Do by Keely Smith


On January 7, 2017, I left Arkansas to travel to Washington, D.C. My experience with The Washington Center’s Presidential Inauguration Seminar was invaluable to me. During my two week stay, I fell in love with our nation’s capital, gained incredible political insight, and formed some friendships along the way. As a Political Science major, I had high expectations and even higher hopes, and the city did not disappoint. The focus was to learn ways to elevate, and maintain civility in, political discourse within the context of the peaceful transition of presidential power, and with every new experience, that goal was being met.

Each morning would begin with lectures covering various aspects of our contemporary political climate, from Michael Eric Dyson discussing race relations to Frank Sesno giving advice on how to ask the right questions and spark change. These speakers also broadened my knowledge of U.S. relations with the Middle East, potential national security threats, environmental issues, the budgeting process, and so much more. It was exciting receiving so much valuable information directly from the experts in their respective disciplines, as was doing so surrounded by hundreds of other students who were equally as interested as I was, and perhaps even more so.

In the afternoon, the students would split off into their assigned small groups for discussion. These conversations would sometimes cover recent site visits, but they often related to the lectures from that morning. It provided a platform for each of us to share with our peers what we found meaningful. My favorite day of discussion followed the lectures on race and equity. One of the speakers made note of how, in the wake of tragedies like mass shootings, people of color have an inclination to almost immediately fear that the perpetrator falls into their same minority group. In small group that afternoon, we had what I thought to be a productive conversation regarding privilege, and the subsequent invisibility of traits like race to those who fall within the majority.

As part of the seminar curriculum, we also participated in daily site visits, either before or after the small group discussions. What made that aspect of the program so unique and constructive was the opportunity to bring earlier lectures and conversations into context by further discussing them in places where those ideas are actually applicable. Some of the site visits I attended included the Henry Stimson Center, which dealt with U.S. defense spending, the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, where we attended a panel on relations between the United States and China and its future under the Trump administration, the Brazilian Embassy, the Holocaust Museum, the U.S. Capitol, and meetings with Representative French Hill and Senator Tom Cotton’s foreign policy advisor. The ability to engage in discourse in these different environments provided both a great lesson in civility and definite personal satisfaction.

Finally, on January 20, it was Inauguration Day. Those of us who managed to get tickets to the swearing in ceremony had to wake up and head to Capitol Hill rather early in order to secure an adequate viewing position. My biggest takeaway from being at this inaugural ceremony was how not to be civil. At any given moment, hundreds of thousands of people were yelling and booing at the sight of whomever they viewed as their political adversary. On the first day of the seminar, filmmaker Julie Winokur emphasized the importance of listening in conversations, as opposed to merely waiting for the other person to stop talking, and that has stuck with me. Chanting foul and derogatory things at the opposition is not the path to creating, and maintaining, civility. Rather, engaged listening and tactful language create a path to elevated discourse, and in divisive times, consciously doing these things is more important than ever.