Students get lesson about the U.S. Constitution

By Adrianna Pitrelli
TheStatehouseFile.com

INDIANAPOLIS — With a mind full of knowledge about government, Keshaunn Tompkins-Barnes sat toward the front of Cathedral High School’s auditorium eager to learn about the Constitution and how it affects him and his friends.

“I really want to become a lawyer because there is a lot of injustice in our system that I can help make more fair and I want to stress equality,” Tompkins-Barnes, a senior at Cathedral High School, said. “So for me, the Constitution is an important document because it is the basis of law.”

When he isn’t leading the marching band as a drum major or studying for the SAT, Tompkins-Barnes can be found searching the internet for good schools for pre-law or reading about the lives of successful lawyers.

Heather Welch, Marion County Superior Court judge, talked to Cathedral High School students Monday about Constitution Day. She showed students how the First Amendment affects their everyday lives. Photo by Adrianna Pitrelli, TheStatehouseFile.com

Monday he had a chance to listen to Heather Welch, a Marion Superior Court judge with 23 years of legal experience, talk about the field he hopes to soon enter and the 230-year-old document that has an impact on his life to this day.

Each year, more than 4,000 Hoosier students celebrate Constitution Day with judges and Supreme Court staff attorneys who visit classrooms and give the students background on the celebratory day and what the Constitution means for them.

“It’s a really special day that doesn’t get a lot of recognition but for someone who wants to be a lawyer, it’s very important,” Tompkins-Barnes said. “But other students can learn a lot about it too.”

Welch, who serves in the civil division, spoke to about 100 students, including Tompkins-Barnes, anxious to learn more about one of the nation’s founding document.

“I like to use this opportunity to show the kids the practical parts of the Constitution,” Welch said. “For instance, to talk about social media and the First Amendment so they know where the free speech line begins and ends.”

On Sept. 16, 1787, when the United States was a new country, the founding fathers agreed to principles that became the U.S. Constitution. It’s the oldest national constitution still used and is as useful today as it was when established 230 years ago. Constitution Day has been celebrated since 2004.

“Hearing from a judge and someone who is high in the law to talk about the Constitution is cool and we can all learn a lot from her,” sophomore Jensen Cripps said.

For students like Cripps, who use social media on a daily basis, having knowledge about their Constitutional rights regarding the ever-growing trend is important.

The First Amendment guarantees freedom of speech, religion, press and assembly, as well as the right to petition the government. With social media, Welch said, students often do not know where the line legally and ethically lies and she wanted to show them how to express themselves professionally.

“Before you post, ask yourself is this something your teachers, mom and dad, a college or future job would find appropriate?” she asked the students. “I do a lot of hiring and we always check their social media.”

From religion to threats, Welch walked students through what they’re allowed to say on social media. For example, students can legally talk about religion on social media but are cautioned to not say something that could offend others. However, students cannot make threats to people via social media or they will get in legal trouble.

“When you go to college, you’re going to have to make smart decisions,” she said. “Use your judgment on the front end, not the back end.”

For Tompkins-Barnes, having a judge come to his school meant more than just getting a professional lesson about social media.

“It’s really special for her to take time out of her day to talk to us,” he said. “It showed me you have to be more aware of certain situations and to be a lawyer you have to know the law and the rights of people.”

And that’s why Welch takes time out of her busy schedule each year to talk with students about something she is passionate about.

“I love interacting with the students,” she said. “There are a number of kids who want to be lawyers one day and I had some really great mentors who were both from this school so I try to give back.”

Adrianna Pitrelli is a reporter for TheStatehouseFile.com, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.

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