By Kim Walter
STEPHENS CITY -- Rep. Frank Wolf, R-10, gave seniors at Sherando High School a glimpse into national and international issues Friday morning, and encouraged them to "get involved" in the political process.
The congressman's audience consisted of students in both the AP Government and Government Service Learning classes.
Wolf gave students a brief background on his life, and told them he had wanted to be a congressman since he was in the third grade.
"But kids made fun of me and my stuttering problem. They said, 'How can you expect to be a congressman when you talk like that,'" he said.
Obviously, Wolf overcame those who doubted him. He admitted, though, that his wife helped to put him through law school, and he lost the first two times he ran for office.
Wolf highlighted the issues that he deemed most important, which include the nation's financial situation, religious persecution, and human rights in other countries.
"As a nation, we're broke," he said. When he asked the students who thought the Social Security system would be there for them by the time they reached retirement, not a single hand went up.
"Your generation should be worked up about this," he said of the nation's debt. "Yes, it's an economic issue, but it's also a moral issue."
Wolf said the country needs to be more invested in STEM -- science, technology, engineering and mathematics -- subjects, so that the United States can compete globally.
"You've got to get control of the market and have a renaissance," he said.
Wolf also voiced his concerns with religious persecution in places like China, Tibet and Iraq. He also mentioned genocide in Darfur, and said he's witnessed "brutality that I don't even want to describe."
"People are being killed because of the color of their skin, Christianity is being forced out of the Middle East, where it began, yet nobody says anything," he said. "The world is quiet about it."
One student asked Wolf if he thought the media makes China look like more of a villain than it actually is.
"No, the media has made China less of a villain than they are," Wolf said.
Wolf explained that China has an aggressive spy program and has wounded America in the form of cyber attacks. However, he said he feels change is coming even though "the press downplays the negative parts of China because they are an economic engine."
When asked about raising taxes, Wolf said he supports them for millionaires. He said that there too many loopholes when it comes to filing for tax-exempt status, and he'd like to see those closed.
Another student brought up the topic of gun control, given the recent shooting in Newtown, Conn., and asked for Wolf's stance on it.
"When you talk about gun control, you've got to look at three things: accessibility of guns, mental health and violence in our culture," he said.
After one of the students asked about student loans and what her age group should do in terms of dealing with education and its financial cost, Wolf said that he had debt from college.
Wolf said in high school, he was ranked 176 out of 191 students, and struggled through college.
"But through all that, the education is so worth it," he said. "I do feel, though, that this country should make it as easy as possible for its young people to get an education."
Wrapping the discussion up, Wolf urged the seniors to "be involved, and stick to your goals."
AP Government teacher Heather Bragg said she was surprised and pleased with her students' participation.
"It was great to hear the dialogue between them and the congressman, but I couldn't help but smile after some of those questions," she said. "It just proves that they're paying attention to what's going on around them, and they want to learn more."
McKenna Kendrick, 17, found the experience interesting, even though she said she is hoping to study communications, and not government, in college.
"It was cool hearing his take on these hot-topic issues that we talk about in class," she said. "And I like that he makes his voting record available ... doesn't seem like he's trying to hide his views on anything."
Fellow senior Chris Mikus, also 17, said he agreed with Wolf's desire to better fund STEM subjects.
"I want to be an engineer," he said. "So hearing him support that subject served as an inspiration for me to work even more toward my goal."
Contact staff writer Kim Walter at 540-465-5137 ext. 191, or firstname.lastname@example.org