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Celebrating O’Dowd’s Commitment to Democracy Immersion Trip

“There’s nothing like it,” describes Dylan Feldman ’23. “The chance to see the gears of our political system at work, to learn about the deep history, and to see the nuances of our government and policy-making, all while in the nation’s capital, is inspiring.”


Close Up 2022 participants enjoy D.C.’s cherry blossoms surrounding the Washington Monument
Close Up 2022 participants enjoy D.C.’s cherry blossoms surrounding the Washington Monument

Every January since 1991, O’Dowd students travel to Washington D.C. to participate in Close Up, a non-partisan, education event that teaches and inspires youth to participate in the democratic process. The moment they land in D.C. students are immersed in life at the nation’s capitol, spending their days exploring the monuments, meeting members of Congress, and participating in events including Mock Congress and other debates. “Close Up helped me see American politics from a different perspective,” says Willem Mullen ’24. “We learned to strengthen our political efficacy and understand the individual impact we can make on our country.”


Close Up, along with Mock Trial and the Holocaust Immersion trip, are programs introduced to O’Dowd by longtime educator Bonnie Sussman. “It’s been wonderful to see our students actively participating in US history,” says Bonnie. “Dragons have now been present at eight presidential inauguration ceremonies, including over 90 participants for the 2009 inauguration of President Barack Obama.”


Thea Patterson ’09 at the 2009 Inauguration
Thea Patterson ’09 at the 2009 Inauguration

During the trip, pairs of O’Dowd students are matched with pairs of students from a different school, sharing a dorm room throughout the week. “Close Up helps kids from vastly different backgrounds and different life experiences around the country to form relationships with each other,” shares Bonnie. “They grow to understand how people’s political ideas are shaped by their families, communities, and region.”


Before attending Close Up, many students take American Government, which Bonnie teaches to 10th, 11th, and 12th graders. The class has a current events focus while also ensuring that students learn how our constitution and government is structured. “Students come out of this course really prepared to participate in Close Up,” says Bonnie. “It’s a joy to see how confident they are immersing themselves in Mock Congress, which is one of the highlights of the week.”


Members of 2009 Close Up in front of Lincoln Memorial
Members of 2009 Close Up in front of Lincoln Memorial

O’Dowd is known for dominating the Mock Congress, which is an immersive activity where students vote for a speaker and leadership, house rules, and work within committees to propose and vote on bills. “Our students are always very prepared and often elected to Mock Congressional leadership positions,” shares Damian Barnes, Close Up Trip Co-Coordinator. “We’ve seen how this program has inspired many alumni to pursue careers in politics.”


Caitlin Meyer ’09 worked in various positions in Washington, D.C. for nine years, including three years as a Senior Policy Aide for Senator Dianne Feinstein. “Stepping into Ms. Sussman's Close Up classroom felt like stepping into the world,” recalls Caitlin Meyer ’09. "It transformed learning for me, from an exercise primarily in memorizing facts to a really exciting, mind-stretching pursuit to understand the systems and people whose choices governed my life. Close Up gave me my first set of civic tools. Ms. Sussman's faith in our ability to participate meaningfully in civic life - and her conviction that we had a duty to do so - is the reason I pursued the degrees, internships and, ultimately, career that I did. "


Caitlin attending Close Up while a student at O’Dowd
Caitlin attending Close Up while a student at O’Dowd

Caitlin receiving inaugural Dianne Feinstein Lake Tahoe Champion Award on Senator Feinstein's behalf at the 2021 Lake Tahoe Summit
Caitlin receiving inaugural Dianne Feinstein Lake Tahoe Champion Award on Senator Feinstein's behalf at the 2021 Lake Tahoe Summit

Bonnie’s dedication to the Close Up program over the last 40 years of her career has inspired over 1,000 students to fully embrace their responsibility as citizens. “It’s certainly profound to see the students I have taken to Close Up pursue a career in politics,” says Bonnie. “But, the most important impact is knowing that our students leave the program fully invested in being lifelong voters.”



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