Lessons from Washington, D.C.: Real-world experience is as important as education

The two most important people in the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives aren’t Republicans or Democrats.

They’re Julie Adams and Karen Haas.

Adams, the Secretary of the Senate, and Haas, the Clerk of the House, run their respective chambers from behind the scenes. They’re responsible for each bill from beginning to end. They introduce it on the floor, tabulate votes and deliver it to the White House.

But here’s the thing about Adams and Haas: Neither planned to work in her current role. In fact, Adams didn’t even know her current job existed until she began working in the Senate and saw the title of the person who signed her paycheck. Today, every U.S. senator’s paycheck bears Adams’ signature.

Again and again this week in Washington, important officials have told the Scouts and Venturers delivering the Report to the Nation that real-world experience is just as important as education.

It’s a lesson young people everywhere can take to heart.

Julie Adams, Secretary of the Senate, greets the delegates.

Experience counts

For young people, Scouting offers the ideal venue for these real-world experiences. Scouts build character and gain leadership skills in a fun environment where it’s OK to fail.

Once they enter the workforce, young people learn that employers look for candidates with practical experience that builds on those fancy degrees.

“I think there’s a lot of real-world experiences that you get in jobs,” Adams said. “You don’t really know what’s out there until you get your foot in the door somewhere.”

Indeed, Adams wanted to be a high school civics teacher until she moved to Washington for some real-world experience and didn’t leave.

“I never planned to do what I’m doing,” she said.

Haas always had a love of history, but she thought she was going to law school. She worked her way up the Capitol Hill food chain and then was nominated to be Clerk.

Prior to that, it was “never something I ever considered,” she said.

Karen Haas (second from right) and Julie Adams (third from right) talk to the delegates.

Opening new doors

Haas encouraged the Scouts and Venturers to thoughtfully consider any opportunity that presents itself.

“Talk to people. Listen to people,” she said. “When they give you the option to do something, take it. And at least experience it. Even if it may not be the right thing, it’s helpful to figure out what you don’t want to do.”

Here’s a Scouting example: Earning the Law merit badge could inspire a Scout to go to law school. Or it could help that Scout realize law school isn’t a good fit. In the latter case, a $4.99 merit badge pamphlet is a bargain compared to $100,000 in student loans.

Anthony Peluso, the National Chief of the Order of the Arrow who is considering law school himself, says this week has taught him that life doesn’t always travel in a straight line.

“One thing I’m taking away from this is that 95 percent of everyone that we’re meeting says they wanted to do something, and now they’re doing something else,” he said.

The Exploring program is built around this concept, too. Young men and young women ages 10 to 20 discover new careers through hands-on experiences and one-on-one mentorship. The career fields range from arts to social services.

For these fortunate Report to the Nation delegates, the trip itself has presented some unique opportunities. Eden Tillotson, a Venturer from California, says the group’s visit to NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center was eye-opening.

“I’ve never thought of a career in NASA, but now I am,” she said.

Serving all representatives

Haas talked to Andrew Chin of New Jersey about his Eagle Scout project. Andrew, who is legally blind, installed braille signs that made Morristown High School more accessible to visually impaired students.

Haas told Andrew that her team is completing a similar project at the U.S. Capitol. This year they’ll deploy a new braille voting system in the House.

“So should we get a new member that is visually impaired, they’ll be able to vote without any issues in the House of Representatives,” she said. “We’re pretty proud of that change.”

“Oh, that’s great,” Andrew said. “Definitely an improvement in accommodations for people with different needs.”

Receiving the report

The delegates’ discussion with Adams and Haas was captivating, but there was business to do.

The group rose, formed a semicircle and presented the 2017 Report to the Nation to Adams and Haas. The report will be entered into the official congressional record.

As part of the BSA’s congressional charter, the BSA is required to present a report outlining the accomplishments of the previous year. (See the report here.)

The report may be congressionally mandated, but Adams and Haas seem to genuinely enjoy this annual part of their jobs.

“We always feel like the future is in good hands when we walk away from this breakfast,” Haas said.

As a member of STEM Scouts, Anjali Rao of Colorado gets to experience STEM careers in a fun, hands-on setting.

Follow the Report to the Nation

Find more coverage here, and follow me on Twitter (@bryanonscouting) and Instagram (@bryanonscouting).

Photos by Michael Roytek and Randy Piland. See more photos here.

About Bryan Wendell 3281 Articles
Bryan Wendell, an Eagle Scout, is the founder of Bryan on Scouting and a contributing writer.