ALBANY — Yash Jani has a confession to make: Yes, he was honored to be one of five students from Georgia chosen to attend the weeklong Democracy in Action Washington Workshop that introduces high school students to the inner workings of the nation’s government.
But given the fact the rising Deerfield-Windsor senior has already mapped out a career in medicine — much as his father, renowned oncologist Chirag Jani, did — the trip was more of an excursion to the nation’s capital than it was an item to mark off his young-in-life bucket list.
“I missed out on the class trip to Washington, so I’d actually never been before,” Jani said as he discussed the recent Washington Workshop. “It was more a ‘fun, free trip with added benefits’ for me.”
But a funny thing happened to young Jani as he took in the “surreal experience” of watching the nation’s government in action.
“I gained a lot of interest in the political process in an AP Government class I took last year,” the 16-year-old said. “As it turned out, when I arrived in Washington and took part in the activities they had planned for us, a lot of the things we learned in that class — a lot of the terminology — became very real for me.
“I also saw the enormity of our government — the number of assistants that worked in every branch, all the moving parts — and I saw a lot of hard work going on, 15- and 16-hour days by the people we elected to represent us. I realized in the nation’s capital, these Congressmen who hold our fate in their hands are like the celebrities everyone wants to get close to. I came away with a very different perspective.”
The Washington Workshops program is a seminar-based program for high school students to gain an insight into the political atmosphere and climate of the nation’s capital. The seminars give students an opportunity to learn more about today’s issues firsthand from members of Congress, Congressional staffers, executive branch officials, media experts, lobbyists and government organizations.
The program encourages students to challenge government officials on today’s issues and to provide their own insights into helping resolve the complex challenges that confront society. The seminar’s core experiential learning tool, the Model Congress, seeks to educate students about the legislative process. It uses the United States Congress as a basis for participating students to simulate, giving them insight into the pressures, limitations and complexities surrounding policy-making in America.
“Model Congress allowed us to immerse ourselves in the legislative process,” said Jani, who has applied to several medical schools, chief among them Mercer University, Augusta Medical College, Georgia Tech, Duke and Stanford. “We were divided into three groups and worked to draft a bill. We worked on the proposal — a bill on trade with China — over the seven days of the workshop and quickly realized that it was a lot of work.
“By the third day, we’d made no progress, so we whittled our proposal down to 14 main parts. A short while later, we narrowed it to three. To get that perspective on the process was definitely enlightening.”
While Jani has already decided on a future in medicine — not, he insists, just because of his father’s example but because he saw a close cousin pass away from cancer and realized during the process that he wanted to be a part of a profession that offered help and hope — his trip to Washington added fuel to an idea he’d been considering since completing that AP Government class.
“They offer a specialty degree that includes medicine and law: some MD/MBA/JD kind of combination,” he said. “I’m seriously thinking about that kind of dual approach.”
Yash’s father stresses the connection between politics and the medical profession as he discusses his son’s future.
“The political process is really a part of all we do — from psycho-social care to administrative — it’s all a part of the whole,” Chirag Jani said. “And while you can’t be a master of everything around you, you can be aware of what is happening and how one thing impacts another.
“One thing I’ve learned in my years of medicine is how these very different pursuits often intersect. Working in a small satellite office, I had the opportunity to see someone who represents us in Atlanta who came to our clinic for two or three weeks. He saw the struggles of some patients just to get up from their chairs, and he said, ‘What can I do in Atlanta to get you help?’ He ended up making a significant donation.”
While his week in Washington was eye-opening for Yash Jani, he did get to experience an example of the absurdity that can sometimes be our government. The students participating in the workshops were on a very strict agenda, and time was a precious commodity. When they learned that they’d get to sit in on an actual debate in the Senate for a half-hour before moving on to their next planned activity, there was a buzz of excitement.
“With all the gridlock going on within our government, I thought we would see some lively debate over a vital issue,” Jani said. “As it turned out, it was close to the lunch break, and they were saving all the important stuff for after lunch. We did get to hear the debate about whether an ice cream factory could be placed in a senator’s district.”