We put out the call, and the delegates of the 53rd annual United States Senate Youth Program Washington Week have answered. Reflective essays describing this once-in-a-lifetime experience have come from all parts of our great nation. All the essays will be posted in their entirety in June, but until then, we would like to share a few excerpts.
What was Washington Week? You could say it was a meeting with the president of the United States, a conversation with Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer, personal interaction with Senators Isakson, Manchin and 78 of their fellow senators at the Senate Reception, a breakfast with Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson, an out-of-this-world experience at NASA Headquarters, an exquisite luncheon at the State Department, an evening with the National Symphony Orchestra, a stroll through the amazing World Bank atrium on the way to meet President Jim Yong Kim, and more. It was also the network of lifelong personal connections built among the 104 delegates and with the 17 phenomenal, competitively selected military officers, our Military Mentors.
The experience is brought to life with delegates’ own words:
For me, the Washington Week experience served as a call to action: to campaign for justice and equality, to seek creative and inclusive solutions, and to use my talents for the betterment of my nation.
Devyn Rigsby, IL – 2015
The main theme that I came away with from my week in Washington, D.C. was that we need to care. For us to improve life for the less fortunate, we must care. We must care about the future, we must care about the world around us, and most importantly, we must care about others. This message is one that has truly struck home with me, and it has fueled my passion for public service more than any other experience that I have ever had. Zachary Schroepfer, FL – 2015
Hope is something that the Senate Youth Program has gifted to all of the delegates – a hope to inspire those around us. A hope to create a society that is dedicated to making positive change. A hope that does not burn out despite the hurdles and troubles that may come its way. I found hope when my Lieutenant said, “This world is full of brilliant people. Find them, stay in touch. You’d be surprised what happens.”
Serene Singh, CO – 2015
We had many wonderful speakers throughout the week. The most influential non-keynote-speaker was my Military Mentor Lieutenant Colonel Ariel Batungbacal. We had many group discussions, but she made time to speak with me. She talked about her education and military career and I discussed my college and career plans. Her advice to me was to”remember to pursue a path of your own choosing to ensure your happiness.” Mariah Stewart, DC – 2015
Upon meeting the nation’s most promising students, I was truly humbled and exhilarated at the sight of an illuminating future for our country. Recurring images of my dreams and aspirations permeated my thoughts as the day progressed. My underlying motivation has been strengthened. I witnessed not only the power of words but also the discovery of my own passions in public policy. It awakened my senses, crystallized my mind, and, perhaps most importantly, humbled me in an arena where egos can be as large as the problems we attempt to solve through our discourse. I am no longer just another high school student with a malleable and cloudy mind. I am a delegate, a problem solver, and, most importantly, a leader. Jocelyn E. Hernandez, TX – 2015
I will close with one of my favorite quotes of the week: “People don’t care how much you know, until they know how much you care.” There is no doubt in my mind that everybody involved in Washington Week will change this world, for as Dr. Suess once said, “Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.” I could not be more grateful for this opportunity, and I certainly can never thank everybody enough, for giving me the experience of a lifetime. Catherine Zhang, PA – 2015
The greatest part of the whole experience for me personally was the lessons that stuck with me after attending Washington Week, particularly a sense of optimism for the future. For one, it really left a sense of hope in young people. Seeing all of these students who were able to interact fluidly with leaders from all over the country gave me a strong feeling that we aren’t necessarily doomed… because we have people like Senate Youth Program delegates who want to become leaders. Mohamed Aly, OK – 2015
This thrilling week has left me speechless at most moments in vain attempts to describe its pure awesomeness. As life goes on, I will look to this week for inspiration to carry on strong in my city, my state, and my country. Trevor Owens, SC – 2015
My week in Washington was a wakeup call to what kind of person I need to become in order to affect the kind of change I’ve worked toward. Surrounded constantly by role models in the form of accomplished professionals as well as accomplished youth, I was inspired by the depth of drive, passion, and intelligence demonstrated by those I interacted with. Amanda Solomon, ID – 2015
The remarkable ideas and astounding intelligence of these speakers saturated my experience, and I couldn’t be more grateful. From the simple ideas on respect of Secretary Julie Adams to the legitimate sincerity of Senator Joe Manchin III to the infectious enthusiasm of Dr. Michelle Thaller and Administrator Charles Bolden to the dedication of Dr. Jim Yong Kim to the casual wisdom of Major Garrett to the philosophic intelligence of President Barack Obama to the relatability of Senator Susan Collins and Senator Cory Gardner, these speakers were superb. Ian Descamps, MT – 2015
After this program, I know that I can make a difference. I now know the true meaning of USSYP: Uniting, Strengthening, and Spotlighting Youth Power. Abhishek Shah, LA – 2015
We can look forward to seeing all the 2015 delegate essays on our website (www.ussenateyouth.org) next month!