2020 Massachusetts Delegate Serena Jampel Rallies for Social Justice and Immerses Herself in the 2020 Election Cycle before Beginning Harvard’s Fall 2021 Term

With this Blog we will close out our series about the 2020 Delegates and how they have been faring since Washington Week was canceled due to the global pandemic. We applaud all of our 2020 students who contributed to this inspiring series. 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.

Serena Jampel, 2020 Massachusetts delegate

USSYP: What has been happening in your life since the announcement of the pandemic?

When the pandemic first escalated here in Newton, MA, each day was a new disappointment as first Washington Week, then a Model UN conference, the long-anticipated track season, and prom were all cancelled (among countless other events and activities). But as these months have progressed, and I have settled into this new normal, I have found myself growing and finding new opportunities that I could have never imagined for myself.

Serena Jampel at Newton North High School in Newtonville, Massachusetts

I attended Newton North High School, a large suburban public school with a graduating class of around 550 students. With a group so large, we were unable to have our regular graduation, so instead, the PTO organized a “graduation lane” where students and parents could walk or drive through a decorated route lined with teachers and administrators. For our virtual ceremony, each student could submit a six second video clip to make the “diploma procession” (no diplomas were distributed) more personal. Oddly enough, watching each of my classmates show off their college gear, wave at the camera with their pets, or in my case, wear a onesie while dancing on a roof, was 100x more entertaining than fidgeting with my mortarboard (they never stay put!) in the blazing heat as the row of gown-clad students waiting to walk across the stage slo-o-o-wly dwindled.

Later in the summer, we also had five mini in-person graduations of 100 students each. This gave everyone a chance to wear their caps and gowns and collect their diplomas from our principal safely. I am so incredibly grateful for all the hard work that was put into celebrating the class of 2020. The parents and administrators involved truly did an outstanding job considering the circumstances.

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 had the privilege of attending almost every Washington Week Online session, and I particularly enjoyed hearing Senator Tammy Baldwin’s advice for aspiring public servants, and I appreciated her relaxed, casual demeanor in addressing us. Through that session, I felt I had had a personal conversation with a true political role model.

Senator Tammy Baldwin, Co-Chair of the 2020 United States Senate Youth Program visits with delegates during Washington Week Online

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?

My fellow delegates are all inspiring, intelligent people who I know will go far. I can’t wait to meet them all someday and to see their amazing achievements. In the meantime, I have exchanged handwritten letters with many of them, especially my dedicated pen pals Lara Pfrimmer (MN) and Stella Tallmon (AK). Arushi Avachat (CA) introduced me to my favorite form of social media, Goodreads, and has shared many book recommendations with me. In November I had a chance to meet Amelie Halleman (MD) and Michael Delorge (ME) in person! After so long only knowing them by name and GroupMe presence, I was so glad to finally speak face to face. We met up in Bar Harbor, Maine for ice cream because we all happened to be in the area. Of course, I would be remiss if I didn’t shout out Katherine Nessel (MA), my co-delegate and friend. We knew each other from the Massachusetts State Student Advisory Council (SSAC), and I have really enjoyed getting to know her better through this experience. She is one of the most hard-working and driven people I have ever met.

Serena Jampel (right) with Michael Delorge (USSYP-ME, 2020) and Amelie Halleman (USSYP-MD, 2020) in Bar Harbor, Maine

USSYP: Has the pandemic had any positive effects in your life? Have you taken up a new hobby or read any books during this unusual excess of time that you can share or recommend? What do you feel you have learned from this experience so far?

By far the hardest part of the pandemic has been coping with so much bad news. These days, it doesn’t feel like there is much to celebrate. My grandfather passed away from COVID on Thanksgiving Day, and I hold so much anger and frustration for the mishandling of this virus that has cost so many lives and for the misinformation that has led people to recklessly endanger our society’s most vulnerable members. A Korean War veteran, doctor, and educator, my grandfather touched the lives of so many. It feels like a gross injustice that such a man left this world in a ceremony that half his children had to watch over livestream, alongside hundreds of family members, friends, patients, and students who were unable to properly pay their respects due to the virus that took his life. We weren’t able to practice the sacred Jewish ritual of sitting shiva, which is a way for people close to the deceased to grieve and heal together.

From one tragedy to the next, each month of quarantine has brought new challenges that have tested us in so many ways. I have learned to practice what I call “aggressive resiliency,” or working through each day with as much optimism as I can muster, creating space for sadness without getting lost in its void. In all honesty, coping can be hard, but spending time with family and doing things that make me happy has made a world of difference.

Not much of a crafter or a baker, I have rekindled my love of reading in my newfound free time. To date, I have read 60 books ranging from nonfiction to fantasy. Some of my favorites were Anthony Hinton’s The Sun Does Shine (a gut wrenching story of life on Death Row) to Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights (I have never been more disturbed by a character than wily Heathcliff) to Tommy Orange’s There There (we really should address what American society owes to indigenous communities) and Leigh Bardugo’s Ninth House (Thrilling. To all the delegates attending Yale: Secret Societies have never been more intriguing). I absolutely love getting lost in stories, and I am so, so happy to have reconnected with reading as both an escape and a genuine joy of my life.

USSYP: Have there been any instances where your natural inclinations toward leadership and service have shone through?

In the wake of George Floyd’s murder, some friends from my high school invited me to join them in organizing a protest for racial justice and against police brutality. We led 500 people in a march along the historic Boston Marathon route that runs through Newton, saying the names of the black people murdered by police officers and chanting “Black Lives Matter.”

Serena Jampel (far right) at Black Lives Matter march

I was honored to have been included in the planning of this action, and I had the opportunity to give a speech at the rally. In my majority white, affluent hometown, I felt I had a unique platform to call other white folks to action, not just as bystanders or witnesses to injustice, but as advocates and activists for change. I have to give all the credit to my classmates: Nathan, Raghav, Leyla, Dani, and Trey for their leadership, and for asking me to join them. I learned so much from the experience.

USSYP: Have there been any instances where your natural inclinations toward leadership and service have shone through?

When my summer job at an overnight camp fell through due to the pandemic, I threw myself wholeheartedly into the 2020 campaign cycle. Throughout the summer and fall, I worked for four separate campaigns on different levels of government. I had the opportunity to work as a digital intern for a New York State Assembly campaign, as a summer field fellow for Senator Ed Markey, as a field intern for a separate Senate campaign, and as a Delegates Fellow for Joe Biden for President.

Serena Jampel with Senator Ed Markey (D-MA)

One of my favorite moments from the summer was speaking at a Markey rally in my hometown (also home to his opponent, former Representative Joe Kennedy III). After my brief remarks, I got to stand behind the Senator as he addressed a crowd of my neighbors and friends. He was wearing the iconic, worn-out Nikes, of course. He gave my community hope, explaining his plans to address racial inequity and climate change through a Green New Deal. It may not have been the same as Washington Week, but I am so grateful that I met and supported a progressive champion like Senator Markey.

In the fall, I was promoted from intern in a competitive, statewide Maine primary to Field Organizer with the Maine Democratic Coordinated Campaign. I moved to Maine, organizing out of Hancock County (including the towns of Ellsworth and Bar Harbor, and Acadia National Park) for candidates up and down the ballot. One of my most memorable days on the job involved doing visibility (promoting the candidate through signs/physical presence) outside a debate venue in Augusta. Due to COVID, there were no spectators at the event, but we stood outside the building blasting music and chanting anyway, for nearly four hours! At one point, a bizarre, quasi-dance battle erupted between the opposing candidates’ staff and supporters. To date, singing Beyoncé while brandishing an enormous barn sign in a near-empty parking lot is probably the strangest thing I’ve been paid to do.

While not all of our candidates won the office they were seeking, I am immensely proud to have helped build up a volunteer base Downeast and to have turned out so many voters in this crucial election cycle.

USSYP: Has the experience of the pandemic changed any of your original thoughts for your future?

I opted to take a gap year after high school so that I could work on the 2020 elections, and the pandemic only fortified that decision. I am so excited for my spring adventures, including a hiking trip in Colorado. Next fall, I will attend Harvard College, and while I am undecided about my concentration, I am interested in History and Literature as well as Social Studies. Both are hybrid concentrations that would allow me to explore various interests, like politics, philosophy, and classics.

I don’t know what the future holds, but this crisis has reinforced my drive to imagine and fight for a more just future where healthcare is treated as a human right and essential workers are given the wages and benefits that reflect their value.