At the Parthenon
At the Parthenon

SNAP! I savored the unique flavors, sampling each of the dozens of dishes heaped upon the table—Greek salads, fried zucchini, tzatzki, pastitsio, souvlakia, lamb. We clapped along to the lively music as guitarists plucked out traditional melodies, serenading the crowded taverna. Hours later, full of talk and food, and more talk and more food, we wandered the cobbled streets, an eclectic mix of busy shops and abandoned ruins. I glanced up. The famous Parthenon stood, bathed in moonlight, watching over its legendary city. That’s when it finally hit me: I was in Greece!

SNAP! I glanced up…and up…and up at the imposing fortress on top of the even more imposing mountain. One thousand steps to the top of the Palamidi Fortress. One thousand steps! After huffing and puffing up a hundred steps, I began to question our bravado. One hundred steps later, I was convinced we were insane. Another hundred steps, and I was cursing whoever had the bright idea of climbing the darn mountain. Half an hour later, as I stood at the peak and surveyed the city below us, I felt a huge sense of victory. I had conquered the mountain! We clambered around the ruins, whooping and yelling as we explored the ancient fortress. It was a moment worth a thousand steps.

At Meteora
At Meteora

SNAP! Dozens of monasteries perched precariously on the crags of Meteora. I couldn’t take my eyes off of the beautiful stone prayers. We quietly wandered the halls of the Greek Orthodox sanctuaries. Elaborate icons adorned the walls. Incense burned. The murmur of soft prayers was a soothing hymn. I stopped and stared at the walls of a small chapel. The cracked and scarred paintings stared back, defiled and destroyed by Nazi soldiers decades before, left as a silent testimony to the harsh reality of intolerance and hatred. I lit a candle and whispered a prayer, stepping out to sit in the sunlight and reflect on the moment.

SNAP! The setting sun bathed the island of Mykonos in gorgeous colors. The soft light kissed our shoulders, sunburned from lazy afternoons reading on the beach and playing in the blue, blue water. The sun bid us goodbye, telling us to enjoy another night of food and talk, laughter and dancing. We delighted in the carefree fun and revelry of the island until it was time to welcome the sun again at a sleepy waterfront café, sipping frappes and hot chocolates as we watched the sky slowly lighten.

On the island of Mykonos
On the island of Mykonos

SNAP! I gazed in awe at the fabled Mask of Agamemnon and the legendary treasures of Troy in the National Archaeological Museum. SNAP! Loud whoops filled the theatre at Epidavros as we belted the Aggie War Hymn at the top of our lungs. SNAP! We spent the wee hours of the morning sharing our thoughts on a rooftop in Napflion in a scene straight out of the movies. SNAP! We ran a fierce three-legged race on the plain track that was the original Olympic stadium. SNAP! I ventured deep into the recently discovered tomb of Philip II.

SNAP! The Chairman of the House Committee on Education and Labor called the hearing to order. Champions of education reform—Michelle Rhee, Michael Bloomberg, Joel Klein, Arne Duncan—testified on closing the achievement gap in education. I scribbled the debate on my legal pad, filling pages and pages with the proposals and arguments shaping public policy. As an intern at the U.S. Department of Education, I was eager to learn everything I could about the ideas, reforms, and results changing public education. We interns enthusiastically relived the debate and reexamined the issues over lunch, discussing our growing passion for education reform and the many exciting possibilities of the future.

At the annual White House Tee-Ball Game with First Lady Laura Bush
At the annual White House Tee-Ball Game

SNAP! “And…play ball!” President George W. Bush announced, kicking off the annual White House Tee-Ball Game. Fifty excited five-year-olds ran around the bases on the South Lawn to the enthusiastic cheers of the audience. Country singer Kenny Chesney led the crowd in a rendition of “Take Me Out to the Ball Game.” After the game, the President smiled at us and shook our hands as he walked by. The First Lady posed for a picture. “Wow!” I repeated the word over and over again.

SNAP! Thousands of tourists decked out in red, white, and blue filled the Capitol to celebrate the Fourth of July. Reenactors read the Declaration of Independence to crowds at the National Archives. The Independence Day parade rolled through downtown. Big juicy slices of watermelon sold fast at the Smithsonian Folklife Festival. Taylor Hicks and Jerry Lee Jones jammed out on the stage in front of the Capitol. Cannons roared in time to the Overture of 1812. Spectacular fireworks exploded over the national monuments. I grinned, overwhelmed by pride and patriotism for our country. Happy birthday, America!

Meeting U. S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings
Meeting U. S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings

SNAP! I peeked into the Oval Office as we explored the West Wing of the White House. SNAP! I ran up the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, reenacting the famous scene from Rocky. SNAP! I enjoyed the local favorite Blue Buck pancakes at Eastern Market. SNAP! I sat at the desk used to film C-SPAN’s Washington Journal. SNAP! I tip-toed after our lantern-toting guide on a spooky ghost tour of Old Town Alexandria. SNAP! I twirled around Times Square singing tunes from Mamma Mia! after my first show on Broadway.

These snapshots are just a few of the many that I took on my travels this summer. The incredible opportunity to travel throughout Greece for two weeks with the Greece Leadership Program and to intern in Washington, D.C. for two months with the Public Policy Internship Program left me with thousands of fantastic photos and memories. These pictures tell exciting stories of new places and new adventures, forming a unique collage of lessons learned, friendships made, and experiences gained in a memoir of a truly unforgettable summer.