The most important thing Valley Catholic School junior Tony Rivera learned during a recent trip to Washington, D.C., was that in government you can never blame just one person for a policy or action.
Last month, Rivera spent a week in the Nation's Capitol as part of the National Youth Leadership Forum on National Security and American Diplomacy where he joined students from across the country in an in-depth look at the decisions that affect America and the role our country plays internationally.
'We explored concepts of ethics, national interests, the strategies used by diplomats, our trade relations with China and assessing American policy on several modern-day issues,' said Rivera.
Two speakers who left big impressions on Rivera were Maura Harty, who serves as assistant secretary of consular affairs, and Steven McDonald, who worked as a foreign service officer from 1970 through 1980.
Some of the issues discussed included the United States' role in Africa and China's growing role in that country as well.
'We just talked about how the U.S. feels about China's influence on Africa,' he said. 'With China's booming economy, they benefit a lot with natural resources from Africa.'
A highlight of the week-long event occurred near the end of the forum when students were split into groups of 20, each appointing a president, Speaker of the House, a journalist and other positions, in an exercise designed to see how they would handle a national security crisis.
The exercise included a hypothetical scenario in Africa, which included Chinese involvement.
'Each small group would solve the crisis on their own,' said Rivera. 'I was Secretary of State. I had people actually working for me. It felt kind of cool.'
Other scenarios included holding a peace conference to address issues of concern as well as plans to redraw the borders of one African country.
Similar to a real-life situation, some groups weren't aware of what other groups were doing. Then came a barrage of faux telegrams passed out claiming that weapons were being distributed across Central Africa.
'So basically it's like the Cuban Missile Crisis,' Rivera observed.
Like any crisis, conflicting reports emerged. China blamed the U.S. for the trouble.
'More reports came in,' he said. 'We got reports of Chinese troops (coming) into Africa.'
Rivera said eventually his group came up with a policy.
Another high point was when Rivera joined other forum attendees in a trip to the U.S. State Department.
'We had to go through a lot of security at first,' he said. 'I felt really fortunate, lucky to be there.'
He also got a chance to do some sightseeing and met briefly with U.S. Rep. David Wu's (D-Ore.) assistant.
'I stopped by the Supreme Court,' he said. 'That was especially cool.'
He described the courtroom and its décor as awe inspiring.
Rivera also visited Arlington National Cemetery where he accidentally walked past John F. Kennedy's grave without realizing it. After begging his chaperone to take him back, Rivera got to see the 35th president's final resting place.
'I was able to take one picture of Jack Kennedy's grave before the camera went out,' he said. 'It was a pretty humbling moment to see that.'
Rivera is active in Valley Catholic activities, where he not only serves as junior class treasurer and a member of Valley Catholic's mock trial team but also belongs to the National Honor Society. In addition, he is a guitarist for Valley Catholic's jazz, concert, pep and liturgy bands.
Rivera said he was pleased he got to take the trip.
'It's definitely something I'll remember pretty much forever.'
For the future, Rivera hopes to go to law school and possibly get a degree in political science.
'Working for the Department of State seemed really interesting,' he said. 'It's nothing concrete but it's something I'd consider.'