Model Congress moves competition to their computers

Sadie Wyatt

Writing bills, debating legislation, and participating in committees are just some of the many events and tasks that occur at a regular Model Congress competition. But the high pressure environment of this year’s Princeton Model Congress on November 13 was drastically different due to one glaring reality: the entire event was online.

The club usually meets in person once a week, but since the pandemic hit it has met via Microsoft Teams. History teacher Allegra Penny, who has co-sponsored the club for four years, has found the switch to the online platform challenging.

There’s not the same level of connection or energy online. In terms of advantages, I think there’s better attendance at meetings,” she noted. “Obviously, it changes a lot of logistics: recruiting students, demonstrating skills that students will need, editing bills from afar and not in person. It’s required the co-sponsors to delegate work and supervision of and communication with students.” 

A highly interactive competition like Princeton Model Congress was no different; it required a change in logistics. While shorter than usual, the event still consisted of an opening ceremony with a keynote speaker, at Princeton MC it was Representative John Sarbanes of Maryland. Each student or “delegate” goes off into their respective committee, where their previously-written piece of legislation is debated. If a bill passes, there are also “full sessions” of larger groups of delegates where bills are also debated. There’s also a Presidential Cabinet and a Supreme Court.

To prepare for the event, each individual had to work harder than usual to revive their skills from the previous season and succeed in the competition. “I think it’s really hard to sit still and stare at a screen and interact fully with students that you don’t know. I think in person it can be a lot of fun, and you form relationships and alliances with different students, but I think that some of the energy is gone when it’s online. So I think before the preparation felt like it was for a bigger culmination, traveling to a conference in person rather than sitting at home in your room,” Penny said. In preparation, there were also some key differences, as Matthew Burgoyne, US history teacher and co-sponsor of the club explained, “We relied heavily on our seniors who have participated in multiple model congress conferences. They shared their bills, gave tips on how to write speeches, and advised younger members what it is like to attend a model congress conference. Their first-hand experience is invaluable.”

When the day of the conference arrived, the competition proved to be calmer than usual, as senior Jared Cohen described. “It being online did make it less of a hassle in a way, the sessions are very very long and take all day, and being at home made it considerably more comfortable and took away some of the overly preppy and weirdly serious vibe in what I think is, when you look at it, a sort of ridiculous event.” While there are some drawbacks, like not being able to see others in person and staring at a screen all day, ultimately the online platform made for a more relaxing experience. “For the sponsors, online is great! We are able to see more students presenting within their committees,” Burgoyne added.

Princeton Model Congress as a whole had little technical difficulties, and the event ran smoothly. “Wilson did very well, two of us won awards, and I think everyone had fun,” Cohen noted. Awards won included Committee Best Delegate (sophmore Deirdre de Leeuw den Bouter) and Presidential Cabinet Honorable Mention Delegate (senior Jared Cohen). Overall the event was a success, and Model Congress maintained its status as an engaging, academic club, even online.