Senate Co-Chairs Share Advice and Wisdom

As summer comes to a close, we know that many students have headed off to college or are starting that all-important senior year of high school.  Some of you may even be applying to the USSYP right now!  If you are looking for advice and counsel on finding success in school, career and life, we offer some excerpts from the keynote addresses given by our Senate Co-Chairs over the years.  Each year two senators, one from each party, serve as the USSYP Senate Co-Chairs and each give the students an evening of their time, providing a keynote address and a lengthy Q & A session.  Let’s start with our 2015 and 2014 Co-Chairs and stay tuned for more to come!

(All photos by Jakub Mosur and Erin Lubin)  

© Photo by Jakub Mosur and Erin Lubin

 2015 Democratic Co-Chair Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV)

  • No one cares how much you know until they know how much you care.
  • What you can’t recover from is thinking, “I could have done it, and I didn’t. I didn’t try. I was afraid to step out and take that risk.” That’s the one you can’t live with, because that will haunt you. That keeps you up at night sometimes, thinking, “I could’ve made a difference.  I really could have.” We all have those moments in life. 
  • Take care of others. As my grandfather used to say, “Leave a little meat on the bone for the next dog.”
  • You have to take care of yourself. Keep yourself strong—mentally, physically, and financially – do the best that you can.

Senator Joe Manchin III of West Virginia, the Senate Youth Program’s 2015 Democratic Co-Chair, has been the center of much legislative activity since the evening he spent with the USSYP delegates. He has strengthened his reputation as a consensus builder willing to work across party lines on common sense solutions. He has lead bipartisan efforts on gun control, and taken to the Senate Floor to raise awareness of the prescription opioid and heroin abuse epidemic.

During his keynote evening, looking out on a sea of young faces, Senator Manchin reflected on his own childhood. “My grandfather told me to keep myself strong mentally, physically and financially if I ever wanted to be able to help anyone else, and I learned the meaning of real service to others from my grandmother, Mama Kay.” It was his grandmother who, in providing a safe haven, work and meals for those in need, showed her young grandson a template for government to serve as a helping hand. She also told him these indelible words:  “No one cares how much you know until they know how much you care.”

One hundred and four high school student delegates - two from each state, the District of Columbia, and the Department of Defense Education Activity - take part in the 53rd annual United States Senate Youth Program held in Washington, DC on March 7-14, 2015. (© Photo by Jakub Mosur and Erin Lubin).

He spoke frankly to the delegates about the perceived price of being involved in public life and the intensive scrutiny it engenders. ”Wouldn’t this be a heck of a place to live if everyone was afraid of that risk and wouldn’t serve?” he reflected. “It’s such a small price to pay for democracy, such a small price.”

Senator Manchin currently leads the Democratic side of the Senate Armed Services Subcommittee in charge of Army and Air Force programs, as well as the Energy Subcommittee of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee. Additionally, he serves on the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee and the Veterans’ Affairs Committee.


© Photo by Jakub Mosur and Erin Lubin
2015 Republican Co-Chair Senator Johnny Isakson (R-GA)

  • Never stop learning.
  • Lead an ethical life and treat others as you would want to be treated.
  • Love your country, your family, friends and schools. Love people and use things – don’t use people and love things.
  • You will need a deep and abiding faith to get you through difficult times.
  • Have respect for your fellow human beings.

Two months after 2015 Republican Co-Chair Senator Johnny Isakson (R-GA) spent an evening with delegates, he had a life-changing announcement to make to his Senate colleagues and Georgia constituents. He had been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. Continuing the strength and leadership he showed at the Archives, he announced, “My diagnosis has not impacted my ability to represent the state of Georgia in the U.S. Senate. I remain devoted to public service, to my state and to my constituents.”

The senator certainly has a lot on his plate, being the only Republican in the Senate chairing two committees — the Senate Ethics Committee and the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, where he and Senator Blumenthal (D-CT) heralded the July passage of bipartisan legislation to increase veterans’ disability benefits. He has made Veterans’ Administration reform a top priority, frequently speaking out on the Senate Floor and penning powerful op-eds.

© Photo by Jakub Mosur and Erin Lubin

Addressing the delegates at the National Archives, Senator Isakson shared profound words on the meaning of public service and he has exemplified that priority since his early years. He is the first Georgian since the 1800s to have served in the state House, state Senate, the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate. In keeping with his focus on youth, he has also served as the chairman of the Georgia Board of Education.

The closing comments of his keynote address are written in many a USSYP leather journal. “Be willing to dream, for in America you have the opportunity to be whatever you dream you want to be, if you prepare through your ethics, through your respect for your fellow man, through loving your fellow man, through respecting the institutions that have gotten you here, and learning every single day.”

Senator Isakson is running for re-election in 2016.

© Photo by Jakub Mosur and Erin Lubin
2014 Democratic Co-Chair Senator Jon Tester (D-MT)

  • Live up to great expectations like Montanan and Senate Majority Leader Mike Mansfield did. Show leadership and work together.
  • When you find a mentor or meet a leader, ask them who inspires them. Ask them how they make their decisions. Ask them what matters most in our future. Then you’ll find out what kind of leaders they are, and you’ll find out what kind of leaders you may want to be.
  • Learn new things and diversify. “That’s why I went off and majored in music. I was going to become a diesel mechanic. My folks said, ‘You know what? This farm may not be here forever, so you’ve got to broaden your horizons a little bit and diversify,’ so I went from going to school to be a diesel mechanic to being a music teacher. That’s pretty good diversification, right?”


“You come from every corner of the country, but the common bond that unites you is that each and every one of you has something to offer this great nation,” Senator Jon Tester, the 2014 Democratic Co-Chair proclaimed to begin his keynote speech.

Exhorting the delegates to never doubt their prospects for success, he humorously gave himself as an example, “I am not exactly your typical senator,“ he said, jokingly pointing to his non-Ivy League college degree, non-existent law degree, flat-top hairstyle and the loss of three fingers on one hand to a meat grinder. “But I walk in the footsteps of Mike Mansfield, in fact I sit in his seat now– he who led the Senate as majority leader for a record sixteen years and held the expectation that leadership means being willing to work with those of differing opinions to do what’s right for your country.”

Senator Tester exemplifies leadership and dedication to bipartisanship in his recent efforts to improve the Veterans’ Choice program. He is the vice chair of the Indian Affairs Committee and has pending bipartisan legislation with Senator Steve Daines (R-MT) to preserve Native American and tribal culture. He has traveled the United States extensively this election cycle in his chairmanship of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.

The senator’s support for the USSYP continues, including serving on the 2017 Senate Youth Program Advisory Committee. And he has confidence in the abilities of the next generation, as evidenced by his optimistic closing remarks. “Our country is always changing, as are the people who lead it, although we face challenges that have existed for generations, every challenge is an opportunity to shape our future.”

© Photo by Jakub Mosur and Erin Lubin

© Photo by Jakub Mosur and Erin Lubin







© Photo by Jakub Mosur and Erin Lubin

2014 Republican Co-Chair Senator Bob Corker (R-TN)

  • Master a skill early in life; become an expert.
  • Set a bold vision for yourself.
  • Give back – no matter what age you are, no matter where you live. Be selfless.
  • Adhere to your principles, but stretch a little to be open to compromise.

Against the stunning backdrop of the National Archives Rotunda where our nation’s founding documents are displayed, the 2014 USSYP Republican Co-Chair Senator Bob Corker of Tennessee summarized his own personal story and offered the delegates several key guideposts for life: “First, master a skill early on. Become indispensable. This will give you the confidence you need to propel yourselves into your futures and will afford you the independence that comes from doing something exceptionally well.”

Senator Corker’s leadership skills, mastery of public policy, and desire to improve the world have been recently lauded in his bipartisan efforts to end human trafficking. He is well positioned to tackle this issue as the chairman of the powerful Senate Foreign Relations Committee. The legislation (S. 553) was unanimously voted out of the Foreign Relations Committee in February 2015, and was signed into law by the president as part of an appropriations bill in December 2015. The senator is also serving on the Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee, the Budget Committee and the Special Committee on Aging. He has developed a high profile policy presence on the Sunday news shows in this year’s election cycle, especially sharing his perspective on preventing terrorism in light of recent events in Paris, Brussels and Nice.

© Photo by Jakub Mosur and Erin Lubin

The National Archives was perhaps the perfect setting for the senator’s 2014 keynote speech. His love of American history was evident when he was asked about the nation’s charter documents illuminated behind him. He spoke eloquently about the Constitution musing that he wished he could delve into what the framers were thinking as they “wrote this document that has guided us and so many other countries trying to create their own; a document that sets out and embraces the values that we have as a nation.”


© Photo by Jakub Mosur and Erin Lubin