Missouri 2020 Delegate Giuseppe Di Cera’s Life During the Pandemic Includes A Senate Internship, Expanding the Student Opportunities Network and Soccer

We continue our Blog series about the 2020 delegates who were unable to attend Washington Week due to the pandemic this year. 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 delegates share home state stories and photos is one of the profound gifts of the program.   

Giuseppe Di Cera senior photo

USSYP:   Can you give us a quick timeline of what has been happening in your life since the announcement of the pandemic?

When Washington Week was cancelled, I felt dispirited because the experience of seeing the inner workings of our government first-hand was truly a unique opportunity. Not too long after that decision, my school, Ladue Horton Watkins High School (a public school with around 1,300 students), cancelled all in-person classes and events for the rest of the year. Administrators at my school had originally planned our “normal” graduation ceremony for the end of May, but it was postponed and moved to the beginning of August as a drive-in car ceremony. We held the ceremony in our school parking lot, so each student’s family parked in a spot and watched the ceremony taking place at the top of the bleachers which overlook our football stadium. Though it wasn’t a normal ceremony, it was still a great way to have a sense of closure for my class. A huge plus to having the ceremony was that I finally had the opportunity to give my graduation speech — I had been practicing talking to a wall for months, so it was a natural transition to give the speech to a bunch of cars!

Since the announcement of the pandemic in March, I have been trying to keep myself busy by pursuing personal projects and an internship. Recently, I finished an internship for Senator Josh Hawley in his St. Louis District Office. The Senator’s office is in a truly incredible building, the Thomas F. Eagleton United States Courthouse in downtown St. Louis. People know St. Louis for our diverse cultures and strong sports teams, but the thing that I love the most about St. Louis is its beautiful architecture, from the Arch to the Eagleton Courthouse. I still remember when I first visited the Courthouse as a junior in my AP Government class; I was starstruck by its monumental size and stature as such an important regional institution. I never thought that I would be walking its halls as an intern, but 2020 has brought many surprises. Throughout my internship, I was honored to participate in an array of interesting discussions, including supporting U.S. Senate State staff in meetings with the Governor and members of Congress. In addition, the experience of speaking to constituents every day and actively relaying their concerns during these challenging times was especially impactful.

Giuseppe, on the left, in Senator Josh Hawley’s St. Louis office, with a member of the Senator’s staff.

In the past few months, I’ve also pursued another project at the Whitney R. Harris Institute of World Law at Washington University in St. Louis School of Law. Last summer, I worked under the guidance of Dr. Leila Sadat to create the High School International Justice Initiative, an educational initiative focused on establishing a global treaty on crimes against humanity. This summer, I expanded the initiative and established a Student Ambassadors Program including 18 students from 4 local schools. I’ve helped direct these students to introduce Harris Institute projects at their schools and draft a comprehensive curriculum focused on international law.

Aside from these endeavors, I’ve dedicated the rest of my time to soccer. Throughout these months, I have tried to keep up my fitness in preparation for my first college season, so I’ve been playing soccer by myself in the yard, on the street, and wherever I can find a soccer field that isn’t closed!

USSYP:  Did you have an opportunity to partake in the Washington Week Online sessions, and if so, which speakers and events were most impactful for you?

Though we could not experience Washington Week in person, having online sessions with such inspiring public servants was incredible. For me, the sessions with Senators James Lankford and Tammy Baldwin were especially impactful because they were both very encouraging and enthusiastic about the different roads one can take to public office. I think Senator Lankford put it best when he advised us to become experts in specific fields that impassion us outside of the public sector before eventually making the leap into elected office. The session with NATO expert Ewan MacDougall was also very interesting. I thought that he made excellent points about the rarity and fragility of democracy and the different values that have shaped governments all over the world. Getting his insight on the importance of U.S. involvement around the world in different global periods was also fascinating. Ultimately, it was a surreal experience for the entire USSYP group to be able to engage with all of the speakers so closely.

USSYP Republican Co-Chair Senator James Lankford of Oklahoma speaks with delegates during 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 interacted with many delegates, and I think that we have all formed a great bond with each other. Personally, I’ve formed a great friendship with George Eid from New Hampshire. Before Washington Week was scheduled to happen, George and I connected over our love for soccer and Juventus (a soccer team in Italy). From that point, we formed a great bond and now regularly discuss domestic politics, as well as our similar Mediterranean cultural upbringings. I’m looking forward to eventually meeting the entire group when the opportunity arises!

USSYP:  Your primary qualifying position for the USSYP was Vice President of the National Honor Society.  But in addition, we see that you served on the City of Ladue’s Youth Advisory Council.  What did you learn from this experience and how has it informed your plans for the future?  Were you able to work closely with the Mayor of your town and what did you learn or observe about leadership from that experience if so?

Serving as Chairman on my Mayor’s Youth Council was a transformative and inspiring experience for me. From my first meeting as a junior, I was encouraged by Mayor Nancy Spewak’s overwhelming enthusiasm for stimulating young people to serve our community. That enthusiasm is what motivated me to propose the idea of the Student Opportunities Network at just our second Youth Council meeting. I worked with the Mayor closely from April of 2019, through the summer, and into the fall to plan out important details for the Student Opportunities Network.

The greatest thing that I learned from Mayor Spewak throughout my time on the Youth Council was the effectiveness and genuine nature of local politics. She formed close relationships with constituents and showed me that a common ground can always be found among two groups that have different perspectives. In our Youth Council meetings, she was always open to new ideas with regard to solving community problems or creating community events. Most importantly, her mentorship and leadership single-handedly contributed to my ambition to serve in public office one day. Mayor Spewak has encouraged me to be bold with my ideas and persistent in my dedication to serve others, which are two qualities that I will make the foundation of my future career.

USSYP: You have created your own nonprofit student resources website called the Student Opportunities Network – can you tell us more about what motivated you to start this organization?

The idea for the Student Opportunities Network came to me when I noticed a critical problem with the education and career development systems in my community, which I think also manifests itself around the country. As a student, I observed how my peers struggled to secure their first career-oriented opportunities. This was not because they were not capable: simply put, they didn’t have networks of connections to match their interests with available opportunities. In addition, knowing the difficulty and uncertainty of the college application process, I wanted to provide a comprehensive resource for high school students to help them navigate standardized tests, college essays, college sports recruiting, and scholarships. So, at a Youth Council Meeting in April of 2019, I approached the mayor of my city with my intention to create an initiative which focused on addressing all of these issues.

It was easy to come up with the idea for the initiative, but it was very challenging to bring the project to fruition. It took months to generate interest among local businesses and to design an easily-navigable website, but around one year later (in early March of 2020), I finished up the website and began advertising opportunities for students in my community. Since the beginning, I’ve partnered with over a dozen local organizations, including several political campaigns, to create and promote meaningful opportunities for students. Every time I receive a new opportunity or get informed about a new student resource, I create a post on the website and inform our 100+ subscribers first. Then, I post the same information on our Instagram (@ladue_student_oppts_network) page so that our followers around the community are informed. From there, students can access the website to check out student resources or directly apply for opportunities. Since March, the Student Opportunities Network has helped over 150 students secure work, internship, and volunteering positions!

I believe that the initiative is powerful because it is equally meaningful for both students and local businesses. The initiative allows students to gain inspiration from hands-on, real world work experiences in order to develop a sense of identity in terms of their career aspirations. For businesses, the Student Opportunities Network creates a more tightly-knit community where the next generation can learn essential skills from esteemed community professionals. Ultimately, nurturing these students creates the potential for future advancement into higher roles within a local organization, creating the next generation of community leaders.

I personally hope to expand this initiative to other St. Louis communities, and eventually, to other cities across the country. Meaningful work opportunities and impactful student resources should be available to every high school and college student, so this is only the beginning of an initiative that I hope can help bring communities closer together and solve many of the critical problems facing students in our nation’s education and career development systems.

USSYP:  Please tell us about your plans for college this fall.

This fall I will be attending the University of Chicago in person. While most of my classes will be online, I’m excited to play on the Men’s Soccer Team at the university – our games have been cancelled, but we will still be training throughout the Fall.

Academically, I plan on double majoring in Business Economics and Public Policy and spending the next four years exploring a wide variety of business management and public service careers, with the ultimate goal of running for federal office.

Giuseppe, signing his soccer commitment letter for the University of Chicago