Behind the scenes: A look into the USSYP delegate experience

The Washington Week Experience – Is it for you?

It is both commonality and diversity that make Washington Week such a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Student leaders from different backgrounds and geographic locales come together in our nation’s capital to share their passion for public service. During the week-long exchange of ideas between speakers and delegates and among the delegates themselves, the students’ intellectual horizons are widened, and their commitment is deepened to using their many talents to make an impact on their communities and beyond.

Application season for USSYP 2018 has kicked off, and you can read below our 2017 delegates’ reflections on the memorable Washington Week experience. If you can relate, and if you qualify, be sure to apply! Please learn more at or review our brochure.

Reflections from the Midwest

As Senator Cory Booker stated in his speech to us, the 55th Annual United States Senate Youth Program, “If you want to go fast, go alone, but if you want to go far, go together.” We are forever bonded by this program, and I’m sure we will go on to do great things in life.

Shawn Park (2017 – IL), University of Chicago, Class of 2021

There is one song from the critically acclaimed musical Hamilton that I believe encapsulates Washington Week, “The Room Where It Happens.” In this song, Aaron Burr laments his inability to be involved in political negotiations and backdoor deals, always viewing politics from the outside. And while opportunities like meeting the chief justice are perhaps not analogous to the shady arrangements made under the table that Lin Manuel Miranda lionizes, they do represent the incomparability of the Senate Youth Program, which promises — and delivers — a look at Washington from within.

Kathy Min (2017 – ID), Yale University, Class of 2021

The conversation that ignited the spark in me the most was the one that I shared with my senator, Heidi Heitkamp. I had the opportunity to eat dinner with her at the National Archives building and I can say with confidence that the time that I shared with Senator Heitkamp was the highlight of my week and will serve as the greatest motivation moving forward in pursuing my career goals. It is easy for us to read about and watch our lawmakers go about their daily lives and perceive them as a figure who seems larger than life, but having the opportunity to share a meal and a conversation with a United States senator really put her journey and her current, esteemed position into perspective. Senator Heitkamp reminded me that possible and easy are not synonymous, but neither are challenging and impossible. Her message of resilience and hard work motivates me to emulate the same passion that she has for our nation and its citizens. I was honored to give Senator Heitkamp’s introduction speech and am proud to have represented the North Dakota that we both call home.

Alyx Schmitz (2017 – ND), University of Jamestown, Class of 2021

I am a product of my culture and my values. As an only child of Indian immigrants, I imbibed Gandhi’s principles of seva (service) and satya (honesty), all while embracing beliefs of individuality and determination from the country that embraced my parents and me.  An aspiring public servant, this program served as the perfect platform for me to share the confluence of my background, experiences, and values with students across the nation, while being exposed to those of my peers.

Rushi Patel (2017 – IN), Harvard University, Class of 2021

Reflections from the Mid-Atlantic

Of course, no Washington Week would have been complete without a visit to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. Meeting the president and vice president was undoubtedly an honor and opportunity of a lifetime, but walking down the White House halls was simply overwhelming. Standing in the Blue Room, looking out at the towering Washington Monument, with the portraits of John Adams, Abraham Lincoln, and past presidents lining the walls, I was deeply moved and humbled by the weight of the president’s office and of the history around me.

Ryan Zhang (2017 – NJ), Harvard University, Class of 2021

The highlight of my week was when I had the honor of introducing Secretary of State Rex Tillerson in the Benjamin Franklin State Dining Room at the State Department. The confidence the program has in high school juniors and seniors to formulate our own remarks, never reviewed by the program, is something we rarely encounter in our everyday lives. As a student captivated by the diplomatic happenings of the world around me, especially with my family background in Syria, meeting and introducing the secretary of state is a moment I will remember my entire life.

Joseph Touma (2017 – WV), Duke University, Class of 2021 

Reflections from the Northeast

As delegates of the U.S. Senate Youth Program we were facilitated by distinguished members of our military who played the role of the most overqualified camp counselors ever. I had never had extensive interactions with members of our military so I was not sure exactly what to expect. I could not have asked for anything better. The phrase “Military Mentor” is not simply employed as a clever use of alliteration, these men and women were genuine leaders and role models. They not only gave me a personal insight into work in the military, but also allowed me to see some of the incredible leaders who have devoted their life to service.

A.J. Braverman (2017 – VT), Brown University, Class of 2021

The United States Senate Youth Program’s Washington Week gave me a lot of hope for the future. While sitting at lunch one day during the week I thought to myself, “The 104 of us right here are the future of our government, and when the time comes, we’ll be ready for it.” At the end of Washington Week, we were no longer Democrats or Republicans. We were brothers, sisters, and Americans. When politics is brother against brother, sister against sister, or “us vs. them”, we all lose, but as long as the 104 of us have something to say about it, this level of division will no longer be the status quo of American politics.

Dennis Ruprecht, Jr. (2017 – NH), University of New Hampshire, Class of 2021

Reflections from the Northwest

The Military Mentors, while a component that from the outside may not appear to be something that would make a huge difference in the program, do. All of the mentors were not only highly decorated, but also relatable. All of the mentors seemed just as excited and proud to be a part of Washington Week as the delegates were. Learning about the different experiences that led the mentors to go into the military and the experiences they had since joining was just as impactful as the speakers. They all had an enthusiasm for learning as much as they could during Washington Week, and I am assuming that they carry that same work ethic and desire for knowledge in their careers. I feel like my interactions with the Military Mentors helped me gain a new level of appreciation for those who serve our country in the military.

Chloe Dulaney (2017 – WA), University of Washington, Class of 2021

While the people and places we went impressed me, what I will take with me for the rest of my life is what I learned about myself throughout the week. This was aided by the conversations and interactions I had with other delegates. Being able to talk to a collection of some of the most accomplished high school students from across the nation allowed me to reflect upon my own achievements and strengths. The lasting friendships I made during the Senate Youth Program are invaluable as well. Everyone was able and willing to eloquently state their own political tendencies and beliefs, which caused me to refine my own beliefs and build off what others said.

Craig Robertson (2017 – WA), University of Washington, Class of 2021

Reflections from Overseas

I have done a lot of programs with a lot of different organizations, all of which claim that their program is “A Week That Will Change Your Life,” but this program did not change my life. Rather, it reaffirmed my desire to go into public service and serve my country through politics. The speakers I heard from made me believe I could make a difference, and the student delegates I met encouraged me to seek even more ways to get engaged with my community and enact changes desperately needed in our society.

John Casey (2017 – DOD Germany), University of Pennsylvania, Class of 2021

A person can read newspaper articles on newly passed bills or watch C-SPAN endlessly on the proceedings of a session in Congress to gain insight into the workings of the United States government and how it functions. But, this is a view on the outside looking in and not the same as walking the halls of government and seeing how government really operates on the inside. Meeting senators and having face-to-face candid, real-life discussions not only altered my perception of the government, but inspired me have an optimistic outlook of the United States as a whole. USSYP gave me the opportunity to actually meet and converse with people who have changed the world through their contributions.

Emma Rook (2017 – DOD Turkey), Brown University, Class of 2021

Reflections from the South

Senator Cory Booker remains the most memorable speaker to me. He left us with a powerful message: “You’re walking around like you hit a triple, but you were born on third base. You eat food at the banquet prepared by your ancestors. You sit in the shade of trees that you did not plant, and you drink water from a well that you did not dig.” He helped me recognize all of the sacrifices everyone has made to get me where I am today. I walk away from this program a changed man. I gained insight and gratitude, and above all, I gained determination. I may not be able to pay my ancestors back, but I will pay them forward. Together, the delegates of the 55th annual Washington Week will change the world.

Braeden Foldenauer (2017 – MS), Harvard University, Class of 2021

My fellow delegates taught me so much, but one of the most important lessons I learned was how to have civil discourse. With mutual respect and a willingness to listen without being quick to criticize, even the most sensitive of hot button issues can be discussed. Civil discourse has been pushed to the fringes in current politics, but these friends have shown me that it can be restored.

Douglas Stewart (2017 – SC), Clemson University, Class of 2021

Reflections from the Southwest

I left Washington Week hopeful, reassured, and excited for the years to come; for the years I get to see my fellow delegates working as senators with courage and passion like Senator Heitkamp, as nonprofit leaders casting a blanket of kindness, understanding, and love over the world like Mark Shriver, as truth-revealing reporters like Bob Schieffer, or even as the president or vice president of the United States of America.

Lauren Lim (2017 – NV), University of Nevada, Reno, BS/MD Class of 2024 

Though I could easily populate the pages of several novels with words reliving my experiences with the Senate Youth Program, if I were forced to describe Washington Week and its impact upon my public service future in one word, I would choose “Matrahin”, which means limitless in Bengali.

Amira Chowdhury (2017 – CA), Rising High School Senior


Photos by Erin Lubin and Jakub Mosur