Secretary of State John Kerry (left) with Montgomery Blair Principal Renay Johnson Wednesday Credit: Jill Ortman-Fouse/Twitter

Standing in a classroom Wednesday at Montgomery Blair High School, Secretary of State John Kerry delivered a strong message to the students sitting in front of him: The world needs to protect its oceans, especially in a time of global climate change.  

Kerry had traveled to the Silver Spring school to congratulate the team of five students who were runners-up in this year’s National Ocean Science Bowl and the winners of the National Science Bowl held in late April and early May in Washington D.C.

The team of Eric Lu, Arnold Mong, James Vinson, Alex Miao and Elliot Kienzle, coached by teacher Tran Pham, bested 68 other high school teams who participated in the National Science Bowl Finals. The Blair team draws its students from the school’s science, mathematics and computer science magnet program, a selective application-only program that is open to high school students living in a specific part of Montgomery County. The winning team was comprised of two seniors, who graduated Friday, two juniors and a sophomore, according to Pham, who said students start training a year before the annual competition.

About 9,000 high school students and 5,100 middle school students competed in this year’s regional competitions of the National Science Bowl sponsored by the Department of Energy (DOE). The department created the competition in 1991 to encourage students to excel in mathematics and science and to pursue careers in those fields, according to DOE.

For winning the competition, the Blair team received an all-expenses paid, nine-day trip to Alaska.

Kerry opened his 35-minute session with the team members and other students primarily from the magnet program with the question that led the Blair team to victory in the National Science Bowl: Material A has a bulk modulus that is twice the bulk modulus of material B. If both A and B have the same densities, by what factor must the speed of sound in B be multiplied to find the speed of sound in A?

He used the visit to talk with students about the economic and ecological importance of oceans and to promote “Our Ocean,” a global conference on oceans that the State Department is hosting in September in Washington, D.C.  It is the third such session held annually since Kerry launched the inaugural conference in 2014 and will bring together heads of state, scientists and business leaders among others to tackle key issues affecting the world’s oceans.

“I’m sure you’re saying to yourselves why is the secretary of state, in an age when we have terrorism and several wars going on at the same time, why are we focused on the oceans and what does that have to do with my life?” Kerry said. “The fact is the oceans are essential to your life. Life on earth wouldn’t exist without the oceans.”

Kerry also provided a science lesson in reasons for global climate change, talking about the growing signs that the earth is getting warmer—from the increasing intensity of storms to the melting of the polar ice cap—to emphasize the dangers it can present to survival.

“We’re spending billions of dollars today of taxpayer money, your parents’ money, that is going to pay for the harder impact of storms, much more damaging than ever before as a result of the intensity of the storms that we suffer because of climate change,” he said. “…This last April was the hottest April in all of recorded history, but what’s scary is that every month before it in the last year now ranks as the hottest particular month in recorded history.”

Those record-breaking months follow decades of warming, he added. “So does that begin to tell you something? It should. That is a warning signal as loud as any warning signal you can get,” he said.

Students then questioned Kerry about global climate issues, including how to help educate the public.

“Well, we’re educating the public, I hope, right now,” Kerry said, as he pointed out the bank of media cameras at the back of the classroom.

Julie Rasicot

Julie Rasicot can be reached at julie.rasicot@bethesdamagazine.com