Selected to be one of two Maryland student representatives in the distinguished US Senate Youth Program, junior Joseph Lee received an in-depth look on the workings of federal government in Washington DC March 2 to March 9.
Lee first discovered the program after being nominated by Blake for his accomplishments and service as SGA president. From there, he began a long and highly competitive application process consisting of a video essay submission, a rigorous public affairs exam, and an interview with the State Department of Education. Outcompeting hundreds of Maryland’s top student leaders, Lee received the final notification of his selection December 4.
Lee left for his “Washington Week” March 2 and arrived to an intense schedule full of meetings with the most important figures in American politics, including the President of the United States, Congressmen, foreign ambassadors, and the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court.
Without the presence of media at many of their events, the delegates were able to
gain an honest and intimate look into the views and opinions of several public figures during private sessions, some of whom must remain politically neutral in the public eye. “We got to know them on a personal level, which I thought was really cool,” says Lee. “For instance, Chief Justice Roberts is supposed to stay very apolitical [and] nonpartisan, [yet] we got to ask him questions he normally couldn’t answer,” says Lee.
When not inquiring about the state of major current issues like gun control, climate change, and military intervention, Lee had the opportunity to hear from these global leaders on what their private lives were like outside the stress of the heavy controversies they handle in their public lives. “They play guitar, they spend time with their family, they go out to eat,” he says. “It was really weird to hear them talk about having friends and being normal because you see them on TV all the time … and it turns out they’re just regular people.”
In addition to networking with high-ranking US dignitaries, Lee notes how his strongest connections from the program were the bonds he built with his cohort of other accomplished high schoolers and their shared passion for public service. “I learned about being selfless from them,” he adds. “They all had causes they cared about. A lot of them are really genuine community workers and I thought that was inspiring.”
From discussing foreign affairs in Afghanistan and North Korea with government officials to eating next to the Constitution with Connecticut Senator Richard Blumenthal, Lee emphasizes how his time learning from people experienced in diverse fields and backgrounds introduced him to a greater worldly perspective.
“I come from a pretty low-income community, so I heard about government and it [has] always [been] just ‘there,’” he says. “But this week, I went ‘there’ and I saw things and I met the people. The world is fundamentally different now. It becomes so much bigger when you realize what’s really out there.”
Emerging out of the program, Lee expresses how his lessons in DC reinforced his passion for helping others and now embraces a firm resolve to pursue public service, no matter the profession, after high school. “Sure, I went [to DC] but I’m back here now and now I have a responsibility,” he adds. “If I had this opportunity, I can’t just throw it away. I don’t know what I’m gonna do, [but] I know [that] if I know something, I have to use whatever I have to help people.