Window on Washington Week: The People You Shall Meet

Delegates to the United States Senate Youth Program are fortunate to meet with the highest-level elected and appointed leaders of our nation, from each government branch, in long-form discussions that include lots of time for Q&A.  Why do busy officials make time for these young people?  Because they know that the future of  our country rests in their hands.  The 104 students who attend Washington Week are selected through an intense and competitive state-by-state application process  You can learn all the details of the national criteria to qualify to apply for the program and the specifics of each state’s selection process through the USSYP website.  Our latest blog highlights the 2018 delegates’ reflections on the valuable insights they have gleaned from these esteemed leaders, shared in essays written after returning home.  We hope you gain insight into an experience that delegates often say is life-changing and inspiring!

Delegates posing for the official 2018 class photo.

There is a common feeling among delegates to uplift each other and become the best leaders for this country. A network has formed among us that radiates positive inspirational words of encouragement and assistance in all future endeavors.

Kimberly Collins, NY – 2018

Librarian of Congress Carla Hayden meeting with USSYP delegates.

While every speaker we met and every place we visited was impactful and meaningful, nothing will ever compare to meeting my personal hero: Dr. Carla Hayden, Librarian of Congress. As all of the delegates were arriving, we tried to get to know each other as quickly as possible and one of the main questions we asked was, “What speaker are you most excited about?” A lot of people mentioned Associate Justice Neil Gorsuch or Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, but I always answered with a very enthusiastic “CARLA HAYDEN!” to which many people responded, “Who?” Most of my fellow delegates did not share my apparently unique passion for libraries, but they were all very supportive and seemed to agree – after I educated them on her extraordinary background and general awesomeness – that the opportunity to hear Dr. Hayden speak was a rare and incredible one.

Claire Harmon, KY – 2018

Congressman John Lewis of Georgia addressing the USSYP delegates.

We were graced by the presence of Civil Rights activist turned Congressman, John Lewis. I asked this last living member of the Big Six Civil Rights leaders whether or not he believed that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s dream had been fulfilled. He answered with a reluctant, yet inspiring, “No, but we are close.” Representative Lewis preached that I would not recognize my home state of Mississippi even 40 years ago. Just his mere company was incredible.

Noah Harris, MS – 2018

Vermont delegates meeting Senator Bernie Sanders during the annual Senate Reception.

I cried when we walked into the Senate Gallery and I saw Senator Bernie Sanders, who stood up and gave an impassioned speech. His hair was messy and his gesticulations were expressive, just as I had seen on television for the past two years. My eyes welled with tears as he questioned why Dodd-Frank bank regulations were being discussed in the Senate as the lives of millions of Dreamers were in limbo.

Miriam Wallstrom, NM — 2018

Delegates taking notes in their journals.

My journal is my time capsule of this life-altering moment. Its dog-eared pages are filled with warm handshakes and difficult questions, with bus rides between landmarks and strolls through memorials, with standing ovations and immaculate quotes, with delegates’ autographs that will cost a fortune one day and blurry polaroids that I will forever cherish. My journal is a kaleidoscope of memories that I refuse to let fade.

Kaitlyn Yoo, AZ – 2018

© Photos by Erin Lubin and Jakub Mosur