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U.S. Senate Youth Program

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

The Wisconsin participants in last year's U.S. Senate Youth Program make a great case for why every school district should nominate a student.

"I knew it was going to be pretty epic, but I didn't know it would be this epic," Neil Kline of Milltown, a graduate of Unity High School, told DPI-ConnectEd.

"I really encourage every single school district to nominate someone," reflected Ross Dahlke of Westfield, a graduate of Westfield High School.

Kline and Dahlke loved spending a week in Washington, D.C., meeting dignitaries like President Barack Obama, U.S. Senators Tammy Baldwin and Ron Johnson, and International Monetary Fund Managing Director Christine Lagarde. Dahlke says students also appreciated life advice from military officials who served as small-group mentors for the week. "A lot of them were kind of in the same profile as us when they were in high school, kind of type A or whatever."

One significant, positive aspect of the experience surprised them. While waiting for officials to appear, the students ended up talking and bonding with each other and soon realized they were making connections with other high achievers of their generation.

Ross Dahlke, left, and Neil Kline, right, with U.S. Senators Tammy Baldwin and Ron Johnson

Ross Dahlke, left, and Neil Kline, right, with U.S. Senators Tammy Baldwin and Ron Johnson

"There was a lot of diffusion of ideas amongst ourselves," Dahlke said. "All of us were used to being 'that guy' [or 'that girl'] at our high school, who kind of rants sometimes. So we all just ranted together for a while."

Yet not every participant dreamed of a future in politics.

Many participants "weren't necessarily thinking about going into politics," Kline noticed. "They wanted to go into some certain issue — but they left the program knowing that at some point they wanted to be more of a public servant."

"The U.S. Senate Youth Program has poets, it has mathematical geniuses, it's got everybody," he said. For Kline, the whole experience was a reminder that hard work will be necessary to achieve big goals.

Also, while "the world can seem pretty scary, pretty dysfunctional," he saw that "Washington is a town that is full of people that really do truly want to do what is best and really do truly want to try and make this county a better place."

On a more practical level, Dahlke appreciated the chance to learn the etiquette of situations like sharing formal meals with high-status people.

Every state gets to send two students each year. High school juniors and seniors currently serving in an elected or appointed position in a school, government, or community organization (including student council) may apply. Wisconsin students may submit applications to the DPI by October 13, 2014, 8:00 a.m., for the 2015 program.