By Robert Dickson
A delegation of 21 students and seven faculty members traveled to Washington, D.C., from Friday, Nov. 6, to Wednesday, Nov. 11, to represent Loyola High School at the national Ignatian Solidarity Network (ISN) Family Teach-In for Justice conference. For the seventh consecutive year, a Loyola group lobbied for comprehensive immigration reform, environmental justice and changes to U.S. foreign policy in Central America.
Students from Jesuit institutions nationwide, including Georgetown University, Creighton University, Cheverus High School, Brophy College Preparatory and Fordham University, collaborated with Loyola students at the Crystal City Marriott Hotel to promote social justice.
“The trip is a very intentional extension of our [Loyola’s] mission. And it gives both students and faculty an experience of being part of something bigger than Loyola that is consistent with Loyola,” Assistant Principal for Ministry Dr. Ann Holmquist said.
At the conference students heard from guest speakers, participated in breakout sessions and celebrated mass.
“From the conference I learned that we should express our opinions on how we can help out the community around us because these issues affect us and will affect future generations if we do not work together to solve them,” senior Gustavo Valle said.
Following the conference Cubs spent Monday, Nov. 9, lobbying at the offices of California representatives for social justice.
Senior Benjamin Coombs-Perez said, “They chose four students from Loyola to lobby to Senator Boxer (D-Calif.) while others lobbied to Rep. Schiff (D-Calif.); and, basically, we talked about wanting to have them [the representatives]donate money to the green climate fund, supporting comprehensive immigration reform and demilitarizing Central America.”
On Tuesday, Nov. 10, Loyola students went to the Supreme Court to meet with Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor.
The meeting with Justice Sotomayor happened as a result of a letter that was written by theology teacher Dr. Jesse Rodriguez and Director of Community Service Mr. Tom Zeko.
“I met with Mr. Zeko and proposed that we write a letter to Justice Sotomayor. At the time, the students in our first generation association, Cubs First, were reading her autobiography. I figured there was no harm in asking for a meeting with her, the worst that could happen was that they [Justice Sotomayor’s office] would say ‘no’,” Dr. Rodriguez said.
Before meeting Justice Sotomayor students were split into two groups and met with her judicial law clerks, according to math teacher Mrs. Susan Torales.
“Her clerks were very inspiring people because they are young and so charismatic and so passionate. They were just role models,” Mrs. Torales said.
After speaking with her clerks, the delegation went into the east conference hall where they waited for Justice Sotomayor.
“There was a photographer who was talking to us, and then suddenly, Justice Sotomayor walked through the door, and there was just this huge silence. It was like ‘wow an incredible person just walked through the door,’” freshman Jose Pescador said. “We were truly speechless.”
Justice Sotomayor spoke, and then allowed five students to ask questions, according to Dr. Holmquist.
“Our students asked questions adults might not have thought to ask, and she treated each question with thoughtfulness and answered with wisdom. She gave a seven minute answer for each question,” theology teacher Mr. Tom Cendejas said.
Freshman Brandon Ortiz, a member of Cubs First, asked Justice Sotomayor about her experience as a first generation college student: “I wanted to know how she dealt with the imposter syndrome of whether she felt like she belonged or not.”
“When she shook my hand after we met with her, I was able to say thank you with a heart full of gratitude because she has helped make decisions that I believe bring greater social justice to our country, and that was very gratifying,” Mr. Cendejas said.
On Wednesday, Nov. 11, the delegation spent the last day touring monuments and the House and Senate floors of the Capitol.
“I enjoyed playing tour guide. I was able to discover experiences within the city that complemented our purpose of the trip,” Mr. Cendejas said. “I like the idea that Jesus’ ministry was teaching on the fly, or on the run, and that was the kind of teaching we did.”
Dr. Holmquist said, “I think experience is the best teacher. Anything that we can have a lived experience of leaves a deeper impression upon us. We can be moved by a text or a dynamic presentation, but when the rubber hits the road, when your feet are on the ground, the chances are it is going to stay with you.”