A day in the life…at the Statehouse

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My alarm goes off at 5:30 a.m., with Katy Perry blasting in my ear. It’s a challenge, trying not to wake my roommates while figuring out what to wear—something professional but not stuffy—for a very unusual day.

I settle on a plain black suit and a white top, imagination being hard to come by at that hour. I pack heels in a bag, slip into my more comfortable Uggs, and head out in the still dark morning for a drive to Columbus.

I’m going to Ohio’s Statehouse to represent Denison at something called “Independent Colleges Day,” sponsored by the Association of Independent Colleges and Universities of Ohio.

It’s a day for students to meet face-to-face with lawmakers and discuss the continuation of financial aid programs as well as the benefits of an independent college education.

Amy Lyon ’11 listens as Rep. Jerry Stebelton answers her question about education funding amid an economic downturn.

I start out with no idea what to expect from the day, and though I’ve been an Admissions tour guide for three years, I’d be lying if I said I weren’t feeling a little nervous about representing the college by myself.

Once there, I set up a display table, put on my heels, take a deep breath, and the day begins.

The agenda’s first event is a session with Rep. Jerry Stebelton, the Education Committee chair. He is incredibly candid with his answers, especially as students press him to talk about budgetary challenges in a weak economy.

I’m momentarily taken aback that this is a Q&A session rather than a speech. But that discomfort fades quickly, and I even manage to ask what Stebelton calls a great question about state funding for education.

As the day goes on, I ask more questions, listen carefully, and learn a lot. In a world where the typical political answer begins and ends with dodging the question, I’m pleasantly surprised by the state’s senators and representatives I meet during the day. They seem to recognize that we are there to represent students at our schools, and they’re willing to hear us out.

Amy Lyon ’11 and Sen. Cliff Hite (parent of Ryan ’03) meet in the Statehouse Atrium.

At one point, while I’m sitting at the display table, Sen. Cliff Hite (parent of Ryan ’03) spies the Denison banner and actually yells, “Go Big Red!” from across the cavernous Statehouse Atrium. Then he comes over to chat for 10 minutes about his son’s experience at Denison. I appreciate his enthusiasm for a school that he didn’t even attend.

Where I had been nervous at the beginning of the day, I’m now filled with excitement about this opportunity to represent my school. I find it downright easy to tell people about the great things Denison offers and about how financial aid makes a difference for students and their families—and not because of my tour guide experience, but because of  my passion for the school.

After lunch, the contingent from Ohio’s Notre Dame College invites me along  with them to meet the lieutenant governor. So I find myself sitting at a conference table, discussing education policy—and baseball—with 10 other students and Lt. Gov. Mary Taylor. (She’s an avid Indians fan, understandably, not a Cubs fan, like I am.)

Amy Lyon ’11 sits in on a lunchtime meeting with Lt. Gov. Mary Taylor.

At the end of the day, I head back to the Hill, hoping that I helped demonstrate the value of a Denison education.

But there was an interesting side benefit to the day. As a senior about to graduate, the experience gave me such insight into the widespread Denison network. Several alumni, who work there as lobbyists, congressional aids, etc., came up to greet me. They asked about their favorite professors and told me about their lives since graduation. It was an instant connection. It’s great to see that wherever you go, the Denison network is strong.

Amy Lyon is a senior communication major from Wilmette, Ill.

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