The year is 1988. I am a senior at Deer Park High School in Texas. I love theater, drama, speech and the Academic Decathalon competition. Some of my good friends are on the debate team, and Jeff (who I think has a crush on me) invites me to attend a program outside of school. It’s a study group sponsored by The Free Enterprise Education Center. The people are cool, he says, at least most of them. They offer scholarships too. I go.
We meet at Jeff’s house. The non-profit programs director, a jocular, round man named Roland Storey, sends us boxes of books. Textbooks wrapped in shiny plastic. Textbooks unavailable at school, but textbooks that tell the real story behind our country’s founding fathers. There are lots of quotes by Thomas Jefferson.
I meet past participants in the program. Rita, one of the founding members now in college, is smart, beautiful, a killer debater and has lofty ambitions in the political arena. She is friendly and helpful. I want to be her.
I also meet Ted. I’ve heard about him from my friends, that he is a master debater and long-term member of the organization. When we are introduced, it is the first time I feel as if someone has sized me up, found me wanting and moved on…all before I finish ‘hello’. It is not a good feeling. I don’t think I’m going to like Ted.
Our small group is invited to attend a weekend American Ideas seminar, at The Stake Conference Center, taught by college-age graduates of ‘the 100-hours of study program’ along with professors from the University of Houston. We study The Ten Pillars of Economic Wisdom. The tone of the lecturers on Free Market and Limited Government sound similiar to our pastor’s sunday morning sermons; it’s like church camp for libertarians. As if it’s normal conversation, we discuss ideas over dinner like: the only thing government should do is provide for the common defense. Firestations? Privatize. Medical care, even Medicare? Definitely privatize. Education? All schools should be private. Education is a privilege, not a constitutional right. Wait, I go to a public school. A good one!
But honestly, the most exciting part for me is feeling important, being treated as a thinking adult, and getting to spend the weekend at a fancy conference center; it is the nicest hotel room I’ve ever been in. And the banquet room has crystal glasses. And there is a magic show. And the college kids have beer. It’s awesome.
Our study team is chosen to become Unit #6 of The Constitutional Corroborators, to give speeches to rotary clubs across the great state of Texas on our vast amounts of knowledge of the U.S. Constitution. We are an impressive group of teenagers. We’ve memorized it. The Constitution.
In 1984, Storey hired a mnemonic expert to devise a system to break down each section and article of the U.S. Constitution (plus the amendments) into retainable pieces. Here is our pony trick: We arrive at a Rotary Club meeting and set-up our easels and large pads of paper. Without notes, we use our clever mnemonic device, and we each write the headlines of our sections. Mine include Articles IV, V, VI & VII. Rooms full of almost all white men, over the age of fifty, wearing blue suits, are very impressed: We are writing the Constitution of the United States FROM MEMORY. Of our group, Ted has participated the previous two years. He recycles his speech.
I spend spring break of my senior year, in a van, driving between Dallas, Longview, Nacogdoches, Tyler, and for the Grand Finale, back to Pasadena, Texas. It’s just Jeff, Trina, Jason, me and Ted with our driver, another college student and graduate of the program, Darren. We are teenagers on an extraordinarily geeky road-trip. Obviously (see pic below) Ted is a spontaneous, fun guy.
Here is a picture of Unit #5, the group a year before ours. In our uniforms, we have been mistaken for Continental Airlines flight attendants.
After our spring break tour, we return and begin to prepare for the final competition. It’s a cut-throat speech contest sponsored by Tenneco. Scholarships are at stake.
Ted places 3rd.
Here is a line from my award-winning speech highlighting my deep wisdom and profound thoughts as an 18 year old. “For example, in modern industry, the employees often do not have a grasp of the basic structure of business…” and “If the public does not continue in strictly monitoring governmental policies, the dire warning from our forefathers that our formula for freedom could be lost in a single generation-will become our reality.”
I graduate highschool and do not keep in touch with my fellow Constitutional Corroborators.
I hear a lot about Ted Cruz these days. Me, I’ve grown and changed a lot since high school. Ted seems pretty similiar to the guy I knew in 1988.