Quinn-Ferguson Students Attending Atlantic Festival in Washington, D.C.

Wednesday, September 25, 2019
Allison Stephens, history faculty member with Isabel Lewis ’20,  Afghanistan Ambassador
Roya Rahmani, Addie Geitner ’21, and Madi Norris ’21.

Eleven students from Mercersburg Academy’s Quinn-Ferguson Honors Seminar experienced the Atlantic Festival September 24-26 in Washington, D.C. It marks the second straight year for the class to take part in the event, which is curated by The Atlantic magazine and features politicians, CEOs, and entertainment-industry figures as speakers and panelists. 

Some of those who appeared at this year’s festival include Bob Iger, chairman and CEO of The Walt Disney Company; Nancy Pelosi, Speaker of the House of Representatives (D-Calif.); Mitt Romney, U.S. Senator (R-Utah) and former presidential candidate; ?uestlove, a musician and journalist who is a co-producer of the Broadway musical Hamilton; world-renowned cellist Yo-Yo Ma; Susan Wojcicki, CEO of YouTube; and Sylvia Acevedo, president and CEO of Girl Scouts of the USA. 

Students heard from Pelosi on September 24 just after she had met with her caucus and before the press conference where she announced that the House of Representatives would be launching a formal impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump.

“It is incredible to be here at the Atlantic Festival in Washington, D.C., as we go through this historic event in real-time,” says history faculty member Allison Stephens, who teaches the course.

The Making of the 21st Century: The Quinn-Ferguson Honors Seminar is a course offered to a select group of upper-middlers and seniors who have demonstrated significant ability to work independently and to contribute meaningfully to a seminar-style class. Students apply to be in the course; participants analyze major political, economic, social, and cultural developments that have shaped the past two decades and that will likely shape the coming decades.

Each student selected a speaker to follow while at the Festival and researched that person to learn more about the person’s background. Students wrote a reflection piece on the person of their choice, including a question they would ask that person if given an opportunity to do so. 

“I think I’m ready to see if I can stand my ground at an event with adults who are knowledgeable about politics, and I want to see if I’m able to hold a conversation and be mindful of the information they’re saying and absorb the information they’re giving,” says class participant Madi Norris ’21.

“It’s pretty daunting that we’re going to be among the youngest people there, and some of the other people there are our senators or commanders of the military,” says Nick Camargo ’20. “That excites me even more because I want to go into that realm of work, so for me, it’s a learning opportunity.”

“I’m excited for the conversations we’re going to have when we come back because so many different things—they’re going to be so many topics shared, so I think we’ll have a lot of good conversations,” says Caroline Kranich ’20. 

“The first year we went, I didn’t know what the result would be,” Stephens says. “At first, the students were like ‘Oh my gosh, we’re the only kids here,’ but then by the end they were really starting to think of things they were hearing—even if they didn’t quite understand it all—but they were starting to get interested and wanted to learn more. The most amazing thing for me was realizing that our school was willing to send them to a conference like this even though in many ways it’s out of their league—and by doing so, we’re telling them it’s not out of their league that they can aspire to engage at this level.” 

The Quinn-Ferguson Honors Seminar is named in honor of emeriti faculty members Jay Quinn and John Ferguson and is open to 11th- and 12th-grade students by application. The course is broad in scope and interdisciplinary in nature; participants analyze major political, economic, social, scientific, mathematical, and cultural developments that have shaped the past two decades and that will likely impact the coming decades.

John David Bennett, dean of curricular innovation and director of Springboard, also accompanied the class in Washington.