Skip to content

Education Non-Profit Fights Political Polarization with Unique Summer Program

Henry Clay Center for Statesmanship College Student Congress aimed at connecting emerging leaders from all fifty states.

50 rising college seniors from every region of the United States recently gathered on the campus of Transylvania University in Lexington, Kentucky for the National High School Student Congress.  The students were selected from a competitive process based on exceptional academic and extracurricular achievements and attended the once-in-a-lifetime academic and personal development program free of cost (travel and lodging included).

The prestigious program is an initiative of the Henry Clay Center for Statesmanship (HCCS), an innovative non-profit dedicated to the legacy of America’s “Great Compromiser,” the 19th century leader Henry Clay, who served with distinction as U.S. Secretary of State, as a U.S. Senator and as Speaker of the U.S. House of the House of Representatives.

“What makes the program so special is that we bring together students from a variety of experiences,” said HCCS Executive, Dr. Michael Vetter.  “Our organization firmly believes we can play a small part in changing the national discourse and fostering compromise in public policy, but half the battle is getting to know our fellow Americans. It’s great to have students from urban, suburban, rural, and all manner of viewpoints and backgrounds learning about each other.”

During the week in Lexington, these next generation leaders and public servants took part in group policy development exercises designed by the Henry Clay Center in partnership with Transylvania University, the Martin School of Public Policy and Administration at the University of Kentucky, the Bipartisan Policy Center and the Council of State Governments. The focus each year is on the lost arts of negotiation, goodwill and compromise.  With the legacy of the Henry Clay in mind, the students tackled four policy topics in 2017: transportation, the national debt/deficit, foreign intervention, and health care.  The four groups divided into eight subgroups to create policy proposals representing different ideological approaches. The subgroups came together for intensive compromise session where students presented a final policy proposal would satisfy both political parties. One group was awarded Best Policy Project, two subgroups were awarded Best Policy Proposals, and four students–chosen by their peers–were awarded the Henry Clay Award for Excellence in Compromise for facilitating compromise within their respective groups.

As in past years, nationally-recognized guest speakers also engaged in seminars with the students.  Keynotes have included justices of the U.S. Supreme Court; U.S. Speakers of the House, governors and the U.S. Senate Majority Leader.

For the first time in the HCCS’s history, the organization held a second week in which 14 college students from the Clay Congress traveled to Washington, D.C. for several days to learn more about how federal policy is formulated.  Students visited with scholars at the Bipartisan Policy Center, the Congressional Budget Office and the Government Accountability Office. The group also met with National Governors Association, the Council of State Governments’ Washington Office and the National Association of State Budget Officers to understand how federal and state policy intersect.

Continuing a tradition revived in 2015, the Henry Clay Center for Statesmanship (HCCS) in partnership with the Kentucky Distillers’ Association (KDA) hosted the second Bourbon Barrel of Compromise on June 21 at the Willard Intercontinental Hotel in Washington, DC. Former Senate Majority Leaders Tom Daschle (D-SD) and Trent Lott (R-MS), recently named Honorary Co-Chairs of the HCCS, received the first Henry Clay Statesmanship Award for their consistent advocacy for greater bipartisan compromise, dialogue and compromise.

Those who complete the programs are now part of a growing network of alumni who serve variously as elected state and local office holders, staffers in the U.S. Senate and House, as well as corporate and legal professionals in the private sector. HCCS connects these alumni through social events and mentorship matching.

In January of 2018, HCCS will again accept applications from college juniors with records of exceptional academic and extracurricular achievement for admission into its June 2018 class. HCCS also hosts a High School National Student Congress for rising seniors. More information can be found at

About the Henry Clay Center for Statesmanship

Founded in 2007, the Henry Clay Center for Statesmanship is dedicated to the education of tomorrow’s leaders in the skills necessary for statesmanship, dialogue, negotiation and compromise. In addition to annual student congresses at the high school and college levels, HCCS sponsors lectures and conducts advocacy for greater levels of negotiation and compromise at all levels of government. Alumni of the Henry Clay Center for Statesmanship now number over 600, and serve variously as elected state and local office holders, staffers in the U.S. Senate and House, as well as corporate and legal professionals in the private sector. The Henry Clay Center for Statesmanship is in partnership with Transylvania University, the University of Kentucky’s Martin School for Public Policy and Administration, the Bipartisan Policy Center and the Council of State Governments. For more information about its programs, the Bourbon Barrel of Compromise or how to contribute, visit: or on Twitter  @HenryClayCenter, on Instagram  @henryclaycenter, on Facebook  @henryclaycenter.