Washington Brokers Prepare The Next Generation (Transcript) | WAMU 88.5 - American University Radio

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Washington Power Brokers Prepare The Next Generation: The U.S. Senate Youth Program

MS. REBECCA SHEIR

00:00:03
So we just heard from some very high-achieving athletes. Now let's hear from some very high-achieving students. Each year, more than 100 students from all over the country flock to D.C. for a week long, all-expense-paid visit. These elite students tour the city's buildings and monuments, but they also get to meet the power brokers that make our country run. In fact, the trip includes private meetings with the Secretary of Defense, a Supreme Court Justice and whenever possible, the President of the United States. As Emily Friedman tells us, the program is more than just a rocking spring vacation. It's an invaluable week that influences the rest of these young peoples' lives.

MS. EMILY FRIEDMAN

00:00:43
For 50 years, the U.S. Senate Youth Program has been bringing the best and brightest high schoolers to D.C. Alumni of the program include Governor Chris Christie of New Jersey, Representative Cory Gardner of Colorado and Senator Susan Collins of Maine. This year's delegates are gathered in a banquet room at the Mayflower Hotel. They're chatting and relaxing before a ceremony to mark the end of their week in Washington. Ask any of them and they'll tell, a life in politics and public service isn't just a possibility, it's a certainty.

MR. CHRISTOPHER SHEPHERD

00:01:15
Well, I'm sure I want to be the President of the United States and I've been sure of that for quite some time now.

FRIEDMAN

00:01:21
This is Christopher Shepherd. He's 17 years old and from Reston, Va. Because of the fact that he looks stunningly like Barack Obama, it's pretty easy to imagine him as president. Another local delegate, Chris Jones, from Northeast D.C., tells me everyone's been having that same reaction.

MR. CHRIS JONES

00:01:38
This whole week, we've been urging this kid to run for president and I want to say that definitely in the future, I will be voting for him.

FRIEDMAN

00:01:44
Shepherd laughs off the praise as his new PR man explains there's been a heated campaign running all week, despite the fact that neither candidate is eligible to be president for another 17 years.

JONES

00:01:56
It's between this guy and another delegate named Channing Ruff from Georgia.

MR. CHANNING RUFF

00:02:02
Hello, my name is Channing Ruff. I am 18 years old and I am from Georgia.

FRIEDMAN

00:02:05
I ask Channing about the race and he lowers his gaze to the floor shaking his head with a smile.

RUFF

00:02:11
I wouldn't say that I have my heart set on being president. Of course if the opportunity ever presented itself, hey, who wouldn't want to be president, right?

FRIEDMAN

00:02:25
As the Army Brass Quintet starts the ceremony, Rayne Guilford, the program director for the United States Senate Youth Program, says the students might keep their cool in discussing their own ambitions, but when it comes to actually meeting the president, it's often a different story.

MS. RAYNE GUILFORD

00:02:42
The students are on risers facing the West Wing and the president heads down that hallway and enters into the room. And when they see him, I'm with my back to where the president is coming from and I see their faces and there is just this tsunami of energy just whooshing in the room and they just gasp.

FRIEDMAN

00:03:01
A couple of kids usually burst into tears.

GUILFORD

00:03:03
I mean, he's a rock star for anyone, but for these students, he is the rock star. He is it. He embodies everything for them that they would like to do.

FRIEDMAN

00:03:11
These students, Guilford, says are the most driven high-schoolers in the country.

GUILFORD

00:03:16
These are the students who are just doers and they already are doing things that most people don't do in their whole life. They publish books when they're in high school, they are on public speaking tours, they are CEO and founders of their own companies.

FRIEDMAN

00:03:31
And if you think about to high school, it won't surprise you that being a mega achiever can also earn you a reputation for being a little bit nerdy.

GUILFORD

00:03:39
I love nerds. I'm a nerd and they meet each other for the first time and then they're no longer in any way ostracized for who they really are.

FRIEDMAN

00:03:48
The annual budget for the program is $2 million dollars and although it's sponsored by the Senate, all the funding comes from the Hurst Foundation. During the week they're in Washington, students meet one on one with their Senators and listen to cabinet members explain how they ended up where they are today. Michelle Kim from Haymarket, Va. says she especially connected with Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta. He told a story about growing up a child of immigrant parents and the gratitude he felt toward this country that had offered his family so much.

MS. MICHELLE KIM

00:04:18
My parents came to a country that they knew nothing of. They gave up everything they had, their family back in Korea, to come to this nation. Watching my parents work so hard every day, I didn't want that to go to waste and I just wanted to make them proud.

FRIEDMAN

00:04:32
Joyce Scott is a D.C. delegate and will attend Stanford University after she graduates. Although she and the other D.C. delegate, Chris Jones, live in the District, they both say the week changed the way they see their hometown.

MS. JOYCE SCOTT

00:04:45
We're meeting officials that most people don't even get to see in their lifetime and we've seen them in one week.

JONES

00:04:51
It was crazy just to see these familiar places, but in such a different and awesome light.

FRIEDMAN

00:04:57
Douglas Bogan (sp?) from Cecil County, Md. says this program was the first time he could imagine actually being successful inside the Beltway. If other U.S. Senate Youth Delegates could do it, Bogan says, why can't he?

MR. DOUGLAS BOGAN

00:05:10
I can be Congressman Cory Gardner. I can be Senator Susan Collins and I don't know how much money they spent on each student here, but really that revelation is priceless.

FRIEDMAN

00:05:21
And that eye-opening moment is what keeps the program running 50 years and counting. I'm Emily Friedman.
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