United States Senate Youth Program Class of 2020: Profiles of Leadership and Resilience During the Pandemic: Lorraine Angelakos – Florida

Florida 2020 Delegate Lorraine Angelakos Exemplifies Leadership and Initiative With a Memorable Virtual High School Graduation.

A new USSYP Blog series will focus on the USSYP Class of 2020, whose Washington Week has the dubious distinction of being the first to be canceled due to a global pandemic. The program was to have begun at the same moment that sections of the United States began the first days of quarantine as the fast-spreading Covid-19 virus changed life as we know it. True to form, and to all expectations, these young leaders have risen to unprecedented challenges, continue to put community and public service first, and are ready to tackle the changed landscape of college and beyond.  We start with Florida delegate Lorraine Angelakos whose impressive outreach letter secured a memorable virtual high school graduation.

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

Lorraine:  After I found out about the cancellation of the Washington Week program I was deeply saddened, yet I understood and accepted why the decision was made. At the beginning of quarantine, I was unquestionably thrown into a whirlwind of anxiety and stress. I was Senior Class President so it was my job to ensure that my class received the most memorable celebration to their final year in high school. But when the pandemic struck our nation, our plans became completely obsolete. We had to figure out a plan for graduation, whether or not we could safely hold a prom, and how could we make this year special despite our new online learning regulations. All in all, it was a lot of pressure.

2020 USSYP Florida delegate Lorraine Angelakos

I attended online Zoom meetings with our superintendent and his board to brainstorm solutions to these problems and aid in the making of a county-wide plan. Unfortunately, none of our ideas were approved and it was so frustrating for all of us. We wanted to give our seniors the world and it felt like we didn’t even have the opportunity to do so. After it was announced that my county would only be able to partake in a virtual graduation ceremony – I knew I could not stop fighting.  My class had raised thousands of dollars over the years in hopes of funding our senior activities at the end of this year. I made it my new mission to make sure that every last penny was to go to my class in hopes of making the most out of this peculiar and what seemed to be a hopeless situation.

My officers and I became fiery and uncontrollably proactive. We requested a full accounting workup of our funds and began to plan. We spent approximately two weeks finding the perfect gifts for our seniors, planning out the designs, finding vendors that were reliable and within our price range, and we had to make sure that all of the items would be ready in time for our drive-through event at school. Each senior received a drinking cup and straw with our tornado logo imprinted on it along with our school name, a keychain that was engraved with the “Class of 2020 Pompano Beach High School” (the zeros in 2020 were toilet paper rolls), a bracelet with a metal plate that was engraved with our high school’s GPS coordinates, a class of 2020 soda can koozie, and a blanket embroidered with our logo. I also asked my aunt to donate 255 cupcakes so each senior would be able to receive one along with their gift bag on their special day.

The day was going to consist of a drive through event on our campus, each senior would drop off textbooks and jerseys, and continue around to receive their gift, cupcake, cords, cap and gown, yearbook, and photo-op with a backdrop. The night prior to our event I stayed up all night (24 hours straight) bagging and decorating each gift bag to perfection. I didn’t get any sleep and delivered everything to the school at 6:00 am that morning. It was so worth it. I received so much positive feedback and “thank yous” from students, faculty, and parents. I was overwhelmed with mere joy and gratitude that I was able to make their final days as seniors ones to never be forgotten.

After my senior year concluded, the anxiety and stress subsidized – I soon realized I had acquired a plethora of “me time.” At first, I had no idea what to do with myself. My whole life I have been constantly on-the-go, working on myriad projects at once, all the while balancing schoolwork and extracurricular activities. When the pandemic hit, I was completely taken off guard. I decided to apply to a local Tex-Mex restaurant and I was ultimately hired – jumping into my first ever “job.” I also picked up a few hobbies. I read a lot now, paint on old clothes/canvases, and I have even found myself bingeing Netflix shows like nobody’s business!  All in all, I am coping pretty well now, and I am extremely grateful for these experiences.

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?

2020 USSYP delegates participate in a Washington Week Online virtual forum.

Lorraine: I attended all of the Washington Week online sessions and I absolutely loved every single one of them. Personally, I think two of the most impactful online sessions were with the State Department’s Alfonso Cortes and the director of the National Institutes of Health Dr. Francis Collins. I really enjoyed some of the conversations we had in these sessions and I learned so many things that were just very eye-opening and new to me. Each delegate’s questions brought forth so much insight and just made me really grateful to know I was selected among such empowering and wonderful human beings. I am more than blessed to have experienced these sessions and I am simply ever so grateful.

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?

Lorraine: I have made several connections with the USSYP delegates and I am whole-heartedly looking forward to meeting them all in person one day! I met someone who is going to Brown with me in the Spring and I am so overjoyed to meet her on campus when we arrive! The people I have met through USSYP are unlike any other. They are driven through a force of undeniable empathy and compassion to serve the greater good of our society. These individuals encompass a sense of duty to aid our nation, all the while comprehending the idea that WE are the future leaders of tomorrow.

USSYP: You have been the center of a big news story – what gave you the idea to reach out to Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson to be your graduation speaker?

Lorraine: I decided to reach out to Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson after first hearing his $7 bucks story: on the day he was cut from a Canadian Football team, The Rock had all of $7 in his pocket and had to start the rest of his life from that. I believed he was the individual my class needed to see and hear from. He embodies perseverance, hope, compassion, and the utmost sense of courage and this is the exact role model I had sought out.

I think a lot of us forget that the time is now. Most graduates may only ever receive a high school graduation – some may be thrust straight into the workforce or enroll in technical colleges to prepare for their careers. I believed his powerful words would not just touch the hearts of seniors but those in the audience as well. Maybe some parents were seeking a sign to change their profession, or some staff members at our school were immersed in a toxic situation and were seeking a sense of hope, maybe someone was just looking for the courage to come out to their family members … whatever the burden each person was facing, I knew everyone would benefit from Mr. Johnson’s powerful words and story.

We tend to forget that the power to change the world is always within us. It starts with conversation, reaching out, aiding others, and welcoming the fact that inherently, people NEED people. The Rock has served as an inspiration for many. He has shown us that we are capable of anything and everything. Sure, we may encounter our own aspects of adversity – but we are never given more than we can handle. We can always prosper and overcome, and I wanted my class to hear this, comprehend this, and live by this. The world is indeed a scary place – society can confront us with seemingly insurmountable obstacles – but I wanted my seniors to know that we are the future. We are allowed to stir the pot, to create a ruckus, to believe in ourselves, and we are allowed to be powerful.

When I sent him the letter it was a complete shot in the dark. I had no idea if it would end up in his hands, better yet even be read. Enclosed in the letter was $7 as a down payment for his services for hopefully speaking at our graduation. That $7 is what served as a reminder of where he came from – it was a symbol of hope and dedication to his own path. I remember waking up to my mom from a nap. I was cranky but she told me that my assistant principal at school had left her a voicemail advising me to check my Instagram for a “special message.” I was confused but followed her directions. My notifications were blowing up and I was extremely puzzled. I realized I had been mentioned on The Rock’s Instagram page. I jumped out of bed and screamed “It’s the Rock – HE ANSWERED MY LETTER!” My mom and I hurried into my sister’s room, propped up the phone and watched the whole video. I was speechless. The fact that my words had caused a ripple effect to impact so many and brought forth a temporary sense of contentment during such trying times was an absolutely beautiful feeling. I am humbled and honored to have shared this moment with not just my class, but the world.

USSYP: You created your own nonprofit service organization called Lolo’s Cocoa. Can you tell us more about what motivated you to start this organization?

Lorraine: Lolo’s Cocoa is a nonprofit that I founded when I was 11 years old. The name stems from my nickname “Lolo” and it’s essentially a hot cocoa stand that my father and I built from scratch. Our mission is simple. Share hot cocoa with a stranger, open up about your own experiences, and create friendships in an unlikely environment. Lolo’s Cocoa is dedicated to promoting mental health awareness and just spreading a mere sense of joy and happiness. I started this nonprofit after I lost one of my close friends to suicide. It was later discovered that she struggled with mental illness – something that is viewed as somewhat taboo in today’s world. I believe it should never be like this. Vulnerability is power. Having uncomfortable conversations is where the most meaningful breakthroughs take place. Lolo’s Cocoa has served over 1000 cups of hot cocoa at local children’s hospitals, orphanages, and even at my high school commemorating mental health awareness week and the anniversary of the Parkland tragedy.

USSYP: Your high school community service career also includes the club you founded to introduce your fellow students to your Greek background and culture, and from what we see, you embody the Greek concept of philotimo. Can you tell us more about the club and its mission?

Lorraine:  I started my own Greek club called the Hellenic Kefi Club at my high school. Our premise was to educate peers on the Greek culture, language, and history. Every meeting we served a new Greek dish (so everyone could try and experience the culture firsthand) and we even brought in different Greek speakers to teach us about various aspects of Greek traditions, regions, dance, and language. Growing up Greek Orthodox, I have learned that it is understandable when others simply choose to reject God and his offerings of only love and eternal freedom after death because many fall subject to infatuation with material objects and comforts in today’s world. However, I’ve learned that prosperity and riches do not make an individual wealthy and that comforts do not give meaning to our existence as human beings on this earth. The church has taught me that people today constantly rely on false pretenses to grant some sort of twisted sense of support and value to their lives. As a Greek Orthodox Christian, it’s been inherently instilled in its followers that we should love souls – not tangible bodies, nor money, and nor self-serving attentiveness. Undeniably, I will continue to love the souls of the people.

Using these morals and values, I am able to have conversations with those around me and welcome opinions and a variety of perspectives on pressing obstacles that face our nation. By loving one another and comprehending the fact that “people inherently need people,” I am able to reach out, create connections, and foster an institution which welcomes human beings from all walks of life. Empathy has taught me to remain vulnerable and listen: to listen actively; to comprehend; to form plausible and effective solutions. I’ve learned that this can only be done by having uncomfortable conversations with those around us.  I want to use my gifts and morals to prolong a sense of harmony and aura of love in this nation. I have heard of the Greek word philotimo and it’s something I strive to live by. Funny enough, it is actually painted in big letters, along with its definition, in my Greek aunt’s local restaurant!

Lorraine Angelakos (far right) celebrates at a Greek heritage event.

USSYP:  Please tell us about your plans for college this fall, where you will be going (either virtually or in person) and what ideas you have about future plans.

Lorraine:  I will be attending Brown University – but, the freshman class will not actually be starting in person until the Spring (all freshmen start in-person then) in order to control the influx of people on campus at one time. I plan to dual concentrate in Political Science (International Relations – Security and Society) and Classics. I plan to continue on to law school and maybe even run for Congress one day. I am really excited to see what the future holds for me.

Post script:  Learn more about the Greek concept of Philotimo:  “That deep-seated awareness in the heart that motivates the good that a person does. A philotimos person is one who conceives and enacts eagerly those things good.”