We continue our Blog series about the 2020 Delegates and how they have been faring since Washington Week was canceled due to the global pandemic. Two outstanding student leaders are selected to serve as USSYP delegates from each state in the nation, as well as the District of Columbia and the Department of Defense Education Activity. Learning of the breadth and beauty of our country as they share home state stories and photos is one of the profound gifts of the program. 2020 Florida Delegate Uma Menon wrote her own book of poetry and produced a youth anthology of art, poetry, and essays on Social Justice during the early months of the pandemic. We applaud all of our 2020 students who contributed to this blog series.
Uma Menon, 2020 USSYP Florida delegate
USSYP: What has been happening in your life since the announcement of the pandemic?
I am from Winter Park, Florida and attended Winter Park High School, a large public school in Central Florida, for the past four years. I graduated high school as a Valedictorian with an International Baccalaureate (IB) Diploma in May 2020. Our graduation was a virtual event that included a compilation of videos of students in their caps and gowns.
Uma Menon, valedictorian at Winter Park High School’s virtual graduation
USSYP: Did you have an opportunity to partake in Washington Week ONLINE, and if so, which speakers and events were most impactful for you?
I really enjoyed participating in the Washington Week Online sessions and learning about our government and public service from field experts. I particularly enjoyed the session with Wisconsin Senator Tammy Baldwin and was greatly inspired by her dedication to justice and democracy.
Senator Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) 2020 Democratic Co-Chair of the Senate Youth Program
Participates in Washington Week Online. © Photo by Jakub Mosur and Erin Lubin
USSYP: Technology has made it possible for you to know and be engaged with your fellow 2020 delegates. Have you formed friendships or special connections?
I have enjoyed meeting my fellow 2020 delegates virtually and greatly value the diversity of perspectives represented within our cohort. I was disappointed by the fact that we were not able to spend Washington Week together this year, but of course, public health is the priority. I am hopeful that I will be able to meet all of the 2020 delegates in-person someday. I’m also excited to know that a few delegates will also be my classmates at Princeton University, and I look forward to meeting them on campus in the future.
USSYP: Has the pandemic had any positive effects in your life?
During the pandemic, I have had a chance to further explore my passions. My first poetry book, Hands for Language, was released during the summer from Mawenzi House Publishers. I also worked on subsequent creative writing projects as well, both in poetry and fiction. Though the pandemic has prevented community-building and organizing in many ways, I have continued my involvement in social and political organizations to advance justice and human rights, which is more important now than ever. I also picked up some new interests and hobbies, such as charcoal drawing and crocheting.
USSYP: Have there been any instances where your natural inclinations toward leadership and service have shone through?
As the first Youth Fellow for the International Human Rights Art Festival, I started, edited, and produced the 2020 Anthology of Youth Creativity on Human Rights & Social Justice, a collection of poetry, fiction, essays, and art by creative voices ages 21 and under. The 42-page publication included art and writing by eighteen brilliant youth advocates who come from three different continents, eight different countries, and several states across the United States. These young writers and artists tackled several important human rights issues, including environmental injustice, racial injustice, police brutality, immigration injustice, and refugee crises. I am honored to have had the opportunity to produce this impactful anthology that has amplified youth voices in social justice discourse. I hope that it continues to inspire people across the world to support and fight for human rights.
USSYP: Have you had the opportunity to work with any outside groups, nonprofits or other organizations to effect positive change during this time?
During the spring and summer, I served as an intern for Generation Human Rights, a nonprofit organization that promotes human rights through educational initiatives. During this internship, I helped to create Reflections on QuaranTEENing, a project that documented teens’ experiences during the COVID-19 Pandemic and served as an education and human rights-based response to the pandemic. For the past several months, I have also served as an Action Fellow with the Alliance for Climate Education. Through this position, I have been able to advocate for social justice and climate justice, which I believe are critically important. I handwrote hundreds of postcards to get out the vote amongst college students in my home state of Florida.
USSYP: Please tell us about your plans for college this fall. Has the experience of the pandemic changed any of your original thoughts for your future?
I am attending Princeton University – virtually, for the fall semester – and plan to major in the Princeton School of Public and International Affairs. I am very interested in human rights, law, international relations, and economic policy, so I hope to deeply explore these fields in college.