Politically minded La Jolla student’s place in elite fellowship puts him ‘in the room where it happens’

La Jolla Country Day junior Carson Walker was chosen for the inaugural Bill of Rights Institute Student Fellowship.
La Jolla Country Day School junior Carson Walker was chosen to be one of 10 participants in the inaugural Bill of Rights Institute Student Fellowship.
(Courtesy of La Jolla Country Day School)

La Jolla Country Day School junior Carson Walker has been selected from a nationwide pool to be one of 10 members of the inaugural Bill of Rights Institute Student Fellowship.

In coming months, Carson will participate in online programming, culminating in a scholarship-funded weekend of programs in Washington, D.C., in June.

“I want to be in the room where it happens,” Carson said, referencing a song lyric from the musical “Hamilton.”

“I’m interested in anything political, because we, as the next generation, need to study the framework and to understand how we got where we are as a country, what’s wrong with the system and what we can do to make it right,” he said.

Of particular concern to the 16-year-old is the polarization of the two major political parties.

“The current state of the country is that the two parties will disagree on everything. One party could say the sky is blue and the other say it is purple. It’s so frustrating,” Carson said. “If I can get a deeper understanding of why that is, I can address it down the line should I become a senator or something.”

“From this fellowship, I hope to learn how we got here and how we can move away from such a ‘vs.’ mindset — Democrat vs. Republican, right vs. wrong,” he added. “There are always going to be partisan divides, but if we can learn how to ease that or minimize that, legislation might actually get passed.”

According to the Bill of Rights Institute, a nonprofit based in Arlington, Va., those in the elite student fellowship will meet twice a month, with each session featuring a short reading, discussion and writing assignment. Participants also will design and lead three public virtual events and the weekend experience in Washington.

Themes may include civil society and why it’s important in America, how we can have an influence in our communities, and the roles of government, charity and entrepreneurship in civil society.

“The fellowship includes a curriculum of learning and dialogue in the great ideas of leadership and citizenship,” according to the institute. “Student fellows will come from broad backgrounds and will demonstrate a range of academic and/or community organizing experience.”

“From this fellowship, I hope to learn how we got here and how we can move away from such a ‘vs.’ mindset.”

— Carson Walker

Carson was introduced to the program by his teachers, three of whom nominated him for the fellowship, but he had a lifetime of following politics before high school. He said when he was 5 that he wanted to be president of the United States, and he started watching debates in his pre-teens.

During the 2016 presidential election, his interest was particularly piqued. “When I saw Donald Trump run for president, his behavior and his campaign felt like a joke,” he said. “And then he won. I started to wonder what enabled him to win. When it came to Democrats, I wondered how they became the party standing for progressivism and pushing away from centrism. With Republicans, it felt like they had switched to entertaining corporations, which allowed [Trump] to be president. I really started to wonder why we are battling with more and more extremes on the right and left rather than looking for something more central.”

He said the pendulum-like pattern in American politics has him wondering where the country is headed politically.

He said he followed a recent piece of legislation that was voted on almost entirely along party lines.

“I found it very alarming,” Carson said. “We’re going to get to a point where we aren’t going to get anything done because someone is going to pose an idea and the other side isn’t going to see the good in it just because of who presented it.”

As he looks to make a political change going forward, Carson said he sees the fellowship as a first step.

“Two of the [colleges] I want to go to are in D.C., so I’m looking forward to being there [in June],” he said. “It’s exciting for me ... it’s something I have been dreaming of my whole life, and where else to study but the center of American politics?”

Carson said he also is looking forward to meeting other politically minded young people among the student fellows. “To be one of so few is so unreal to think about,” he said. ◆