At the beginning of my senior year, I set a single goal for myself: to become a delegate to the United States Senate Youth Program (USSYP). The program offers high school students across the country the chance to participate in Washington Week and to be awarded a $10,000 college scholarship.
After discovering the opportunity last year, I knew the experience of engaging with federal policymakers would be invaluable to my educational pursuits. Last September, I began the three-month-long selection process that included comprehensive, autobiographical essay responses and an interview in Atlanta. Only two students per state would be chosen, so the competition was intense.
On Dec. 1, though, I got the call from the Georgia Department of Education confirming my selection, and I was overwhelmed instantly with excitement. I spent the end of last year meticulously planning my outfits, preparing dialogue for my senators and connecting with the other delegates in USSYP’s 61st class.
Program Director Rayne Guilford describes USSYP Washington Week as “the Olympics of public service.” After participating, I think her statement is a perfect way to explain it. Lasting from March 4-11, this year’s Washington Week included meetings with Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mark Milley, Senate Parliamentarian Elizabeth MacDonough, U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona, U.S. Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke, acting U.S. archivist Debra Wall, Surgeon General Vivek Murthy, leaders from the U.S. Institute of Peace and nearly all 100 members of the Senate.
The most rewarding of these activities for me centered on individuals whose roles satisfy our government’s nonpartisan needs. Sotomayor reminded the delegates of her commitment to fair rulings in the court, and Republican Sen. Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia addressed her devotion to working alongside members of the opposing party. These sentiments were especially compelling, since I plan to pursue a career focusing on public interest law that indiscriminately uplifts society’s most vulnerable voices.
Over the course of the week, a collective need to embrace bipartisanship in creating public policy was emphasized time and time again.
Each program speaker allowed the delegates to engage in a question-and-answer session. I was able to converse with MacDonough about her experience as a law clerk for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit. She said exposure to America’s judicial system spearheaded her dedication to nonpartisan contributions in the Senate. Now, her role is intentionally apolitical, and she works to maintain that promise.
In addition, I met 103 of the most incredibly enthusiastic and inspiring young adults in the country. I hope to continue my relationship with my fellow delegates and can’t wait to see what they accomplish!
I am the first student from Harrison High School to be selected for the honor of participating in USSYP. I am proud to have represented my school, Kennesaw, Cobb County and the state of Georgia in front of our nation’s leaders. Hopefully, my presence will encourage representatives to prioritize our community in the future.
After such an incredible week, I confidently can say I will continue to devote my life to public service. During the program, Sotomayor said, “If you don’t try, change isn’t possible,” and she urged us not to become “the bystander that gets hit by the bus.” I hope I can lead by example and become one of America’s voices for justice in my generation.
– Jack Lakis is a 17-year-old senior at Harrison High School. He advocates for inclusivity in schools and ranks at the top of his class.
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