What do you think is the most important issue facing the U.S. today?
This is the question a panel of five judges posed to 10 Maine high school students vying for a prestigious honor on Thursday. Each student’s four-minute response homed in on one current governmental issue, such as foreign policy, renewable energy, the erosion of civil liberties or the general state of the economy. The most popular response, however, was the lack of bipartisan effort in U.S. Congress.
“This has left us with problems that should have been dealt with years ago,” said Evan Peaco, a junior at Portland High School. “It shouldn’t be a war—it should be a struggle to aid the nation.”
While the topics of their speeches varied, their responses maintained one overarching similarity: all presenters seemed well-versed in current American politics and policies, which may have been their motive to undergo this rigorous interview process in order to compete for two spots in the 2013 United States Senate Youth Program.
During Thursday’s rigorous selection process, hosted by the Maine Department of Education, candidates also engaged in closed, individual interviews with the judging panel.
Most finalists’ social sciences teachers encouraged them to apply for USSYP, with the students’ futures in mind. The long-term career interests of the group ranged from politics to policy analysis to law and even journalism.
“The scholarship would be awesome, but the opportunity to meet all the people you get to meet, such as your senator…would be really cool,” said finalist Thomas Poblador, of Noble High School.
Poblador’s competitor, Jackson Beck of South Portland High School, agreed. “You see those people involved in the debates a lot, but you don’t actually get to see them as people,” Beck said.
The two winning students will be announced in early December, and they will be traveling to Washington, D.C., from March 9 to 16 for the 51st annual USSYP. The delegates also receive a $5,000 college scholarship. One-hundred-and-four students from across the country will be selected for the program this year.
In Washington, students will hear major policy addresses by senators, cabinet members, officials from the Departments of State and Defense and directors of other federal agencies, as well as participate in a meeting with a justice of the U.S. Supreme Court.