Nevada Union senior visits Washington as part of youth senate program
When Nevada Union High School senior Ben Beltran found out that he’d been nominated by his school’s principal to apply for the United States Senate Youth Program — a competitive program that allows high school students to spend a week studying the federal government in Washington, D.C. — he figured he was a long shot.
As someone who was more focused on science and engineering, he said, the program was outside of his comfort zone. Still, he’d always had an interest in public service and politics, so he decided to tackle the application.
“It just seemed like too good of an opportunity not to apply,” Beltran said.
He’s glad he did. In December, Beltran was one of two California students out of 140 applicants chosen by the state’s department of education to become a youth delegate.
The program began in 1962 as a way to give high school juniors and seniors with an interest in public service a better understanding of the inner workings of government; in addition to the week-long program in the nation’s capital, each selected student receives a $5,000 college scholarship. The program is funded by the Hearst Foundations.
To be eligible for the program, students must serve as an elected or appointed leader within student government, or a civic or educational organization (Beltran is the secretary of Nevada Union’s Associated Student Body). Applicants are selected based on their academic performance, leadership abilities and commitment to public service.
Beltran joined 103 other students — two students from each state, as well as two from Washington, D.C., and two from the Department of Defense Education Activity — in Washington, D.C. from March 7-14.
“It was an opportunity for us to see the government, meet people, talk about their jobs and just learn about leadership in general,” Beltran said.
Beltran rattled off the list of government officials the group interacted with throughout the week.
The president of the World Bank, the secretary of the senate and members of the department of defense spoke to students. Researchers from NASA presented up-to-date information on the activity of rovers exploring Mars.
The students spoke with Supreme Court Justice Stephen G. Breyer (Beltran obtained Justice Breyer’s autograph and promptly handed the souvenir over to his government teacher at Nevada Union).
President Barack Obama also addressed the students in a speech and took some time to answer their questions.
One moment in particular summed up the experience, Beltran said. The group was treated to dinner and a speech from a senator in the Rotunda for the Charters of Freedom inside the National Archives Museum.
The rotunda was closed to everyone except the group, and Beltran found himself sitting in close proximity to some of the most important documents in American history – the Declaration of Independence, the U.S. Constitution and the Bill of Rights.
“It was surreal, to be honest, just absolutely surreal,” Beltran said. “I was just happy to be there, just humbled and honored to be representing California. I just sort of took the moment in.”
Those moments may have been impressive, Beltran said, but the messages he took away from interacting with the country’s leaders were even more memorable.
Hearing some of the top officials in the nation’s government talk about their personal experiences and daily responsibilities helped reinforce the concepts he’s learned in his government classes at Nevada Union, Beltran said.
“Being there and listening to current contemporary figures who are playing a role in politics right now, it was an opportunity to see it played out in real life,” Beltran said.
He was especially struck that many of the speakers emphasized the importance of representing the public while also making compromises to pass bills and set policies – something that doesn’t always seem like lawmakers’ top priority to those viewing the government from afar, he noted.
“There are people in the government right now who are working toward making compromises,” Beltran said. “It’s important not to be so cynical about the future.”
Beltran said he might be interested in a political career someday, but added that he believes the role of a public servant should be earned with hard work and a dedication to improving the lives of others.
“If I live my life to the best standard that I can, maybe I will be elected to public service,” Beltran said.
So don’t expect Beltran to hold office any time soon. He’ll finish out his senior year at Nevada Union — where he plays tennis and soccer, is the president of both the Spanish and Key clubs and also runs a tutoring program for area middle school students — and then head off to college.
He’s been accepted into six schools so far, including Stanford University, but hasn’t made his decision yet.
He said he hopes he can use his experience in the senate youth program to encourage his peers to become interested and engaged in political issues and public service, no matter where his path takes him.
“Through programs like this, I’m better equipped to make a change wherever I go, in whatever community I’m placed,” Beltran said.
To contact Staff Writer Emily Lavin, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 530-477-4230.
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