Capitol trip one to learn from

We left at 7:30 a.m. from the dark parking lot at Marquette Senior High School. Twenty-five students and two coaches were on the bus, and we had been preparing for this for several months, albeit sporadically. This was not a basketball game or ski race; it was a trip to We The People State Finals in Lansing, Michigan.

After dropping bags off at our hotel in Lansing, the whole class headed over to the State Capitol for a tour. The building was beautiful, having been in existence since the 1870s and restored completely in the 1980s. The glass and cast iron floor under the central dome is only five-eighths of an inch thick and has survived since the Capitol was built. The whole class got down on the floor and stared up at the magnificent dome over four stories above our heads. Later, on the fourth floor, we found the rooms we would be competing in the following day.

We returned to the hotel after a dinner in town, and relaxed a bit. Then came the serious studying, perfecting our papers and practicing follow-up questions. We The People competitions have two sections. First, the group reads a four-minute essay of prepared remarks to the judges, and then there is a six-minute session of follow-up questions, asked by the judges and covering related topics. The competing group must answer these questions using historical examples and precedents whenever possible, without use of the essays or notes.

Each competing class, one of which was the combined advance placement government classes from MSHS, was split into six unit groups. Each group had three to five people in it. Each unit would be asked two different questions from the group of three they had prepared remarks for, and it would be a surprise which questions were asked. I was part of the unit six group, and our questions covered everything from natural rights, philosophy and John Locke, to current debates about immigration and civil disobedience.

We went to bed rather late, but feeling fairly well prepared for the competition the next day. In the morning, the entire class was on the bus and ready to go to the Capitol to compete by 8:15 a.m.

All of us were definitely nervous, and I know I had a huge cloud of butterflies in my stomach. However, as my teacher advised us, we tried to “make the butterflies fly in formation.” Once the judges arrived, each group took its turn, and it seemed to be going fairly well. My group had been asked a question that had to do with differences between classical republicanism and natural rights in respect to citizenship.

During the afternoon session we were hoping to be asked question three, as it was our favorite, however, when the judges arrived they asked question two instead. We read our prepared remarks, and answered the follow-up questions regarding immigration and requirements for citizenship. I was much more confident this time, as were my partners, and we worked together well. So well, in fact, that I entirely forgot the rest of my class was watching from behind us.

Overall, we felt our class had done fairly well, a fact reinforced by our teachers. The awards ceremony was about an hour later, and we were all eager to hear the results. I was relieved to discover we were not one of the “also-rans,” the classes that finished in fifth place or worse. The tension rising, we found we were also not in fourth. The third place class was announced, and it was Marquette. We collected our trophy and, despite the fact that we would not advance to Nationals as the first place team did, we were thrilled with our finish. The trip was a wonderful experience and I had a lot of fun, surprising myself. I learned a lot about my classmates, our government, and myselfall very good things to know.

Editor’s note: Maggie Guter, 16, is a junior at Marquette Senior High School. She is a long time member of 8-18 Media and is also involved in sailing, skiing and piano. Her parents are Jake Guter and Mary Doll of Marquette. 8-18 Media is a youth journalism program of the Upper Peninsula Children’s Museum. Through the program, teams of kids write news stories and commentaries on issues important to youth and about any good, or bad, things youth are up to. For more information call 906-226-7874, or email at