Cheney Free Press -


Learning about our freedoms' foundations

Cheney High School student attends national leadership conference


December 21, 2017

Cheney High School sophomore Juliane De los Santos loves to write essays, taking inspiration from his language arts teacher Krista Delaney.

So when counselors at the school's career counseling center told him of a contest he could win by writing an essay, De los Santos wasted no time. He pounded out "Why it's important to vote" and submitted it to Spokane AMVETS Post 92 as his entry in the "Spirit of America Youth Leadership Program" contest.

Post president and AMVETS national executive committee member Gloria George read it and liked it, and forwarded it to the organization's national office where they also agreed.

"I won't lose either way," De los Santos said of writing the essay. "If I win it, I'll win it. I was really surprised when I got the (notification) in August that I won."

"He's the (only) winner from Washington state," George said.

What De los Santos won was a trip to the Freedoms Foundation in Valley Forge, Pa. for the leadership program's four-day conference, Nov. 2–5. He was one of 90 students from across the nation attending the event that featured leadership workshops, mock government exercises, a pair of sightseeing tours and much more.

And, De los Santos didn't have to raise any money to attend.

"No student who goes to this conference has to pay their own way," George, who also went as a chaperone, said. "It's all paid for by AMVETS."

Student check-in began at 3 p.m. on Nov. 2, with some activities that evening. The bulk of the conference occurred Friday and Saturday in Valley Forge, which is next door to the national park that bears the same famous name.

Students attended leadership workshops on topics such as rights and responsibilities of a citizen leader, communication and teamwork and personalities of a leader. They also took part in various committees of personal interest including public speaking and news.

Individuals dressed as Thomas Jefferson and John Adams addressed the students in question and answer sessions. There was also time for a trip to the revolutionary-era Continental Army's winter encampment next door, and to Philadelphia to visit many historic locations.

"Like Independence Hall," De los Santos said. "We were in the room of actual historical figures."

What stood out for most for the student from Airway Heights were the two Freedom Summits - particularly the mock trail Saturday morning at the Criminal Justice Center. The students organized themselves into a mini-version of the U.S. Supreme Court, including attorney's legal aides, etc., and heard and decided a case appearing before the actual Court - Masterpiece Cake Shop vs. State of Colorado. George said it was interesting how the students went about selecting their nine justices.

"They picked the most neutral," she said. "I thought that was pretty cool how they came to that."

De los Santos said acted as an aide, providing ideas for speeches to the students representing Colorado and working with them to develop the content. He said he thinks it played a part in the final 6–3 decision in favor of the state.

De los Santos also pointed to another meaningful moment for him, a speech made by a guest speaker who spoke about his personal history, and how he incorporates that into what he does today.

"It was very inspirational," De los Santos said. "We have an impact on history and can have an impact on history."

De los Santos said he has been putting to use what he learned in Valley Forge at Cheney High, becoming a member of clubs such as Washington Drug Free Youth, Cyber Patriots and the Future Business Leaders of America. And he's getting busy on another essay, this one for a contest sponsored by the National Colonial Dames of America.

His working topic "Why the Founding Fathers gave presidents power to give executive orders and how the Congress and courts can limit them."

John McCallum can be reached at


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