The furthest east Kyle Stropes had ever been was Montana. However, he found out in March that he would be attending the National Youth Leadership Forum on National Security in Washington, D.C. Sept. 27-Oct. 2. The Skyview High School junior was the only student from the state of Alaska to attend the forum. He said he was chosen based on a survey distributed in the school and submitted to the National Youth Leadership Forum.
"Everybody was in awe of me being from Alaska -- which is weird," Stropes said.
Much like other Alaskans who visit the Lower 48, Stropes was immediately bombarded by questions.
"I was asked questions like 'Do you take sled dogs to school?', 'Do you see the northern lights every day?' -- and stuff like that," Stropes said.
During the first meeting, delegates from each state were asked to stand, and Stropes was the only one standing when Alaska was called.
"It was a lot of pressure on me, and I actually did feel it in the first day," he said.
However, Stropes was able to overcome the nervousness he felt and decided to look at the situation differently.
"Instead of being so nervous about being the only one from Alaska, I was honored, this was an amazing experience that only I was experiencing," he said. "I could go home and tell everyone about it."
The curriculum for the forum was based on actual world events, according to the National Youth Leadership Forum.
"Throughout the program, students use critical thinking, leadership and public speaking skills to tackle the complexity of national decision making," a press release from the forum said.
About 400 students participated in thought-provoking question and answer sessions with highly respected, internationally recognized civilian policy makers and senior military personnel.
Stropes roomed with two other students during his trip, one from Virginia and one from California. The students were split into meeting groups, to promote a much more relaxed atmosphere where students could interact with smaller groups.
"Our meeting groups became our little family for while we were there that week," he said. "It was pretty cool."
Each day, the group would travel throughout D.C. to see a monument or a lecture.
"We got to see a lot of things," Stropes said. "I got to see the Lincoln Memorial, we went to the Library of Congress, the Capitol Building, and the Supreme Court."
After the day's tour, the students would meet in their groups and discuss the day's activities. After dinner, the groups would have an activity that led up to the next day.
Stropes said the experience has given him an up-close look on national security.
"I understand why the national security is so important now," he said. "And also why things are changing within national security -- like T.S.A. regulations and things like that."
The forum gave Stropes a preview of what he can expect after he leaves high school.
"I think just the fact of me being by myself and experiencing these things with people from around the country will give me an experience on what it's like after school," he said. "You're on your own, and don't really know anyone in college -- things like that."
Stropes was able to gain a larger perspective from the trip and helped him gain an understanding.
"I'm just very honored to be able to go and experience this," he said. "It really opened my eyes to the nation and what it means to be an American citizen."