West High student Kenny Lam reflects on experience with U.S. Senate Youth Program
Two Iowa students were selected as delegates to the 60th annual United States Senate Youth Program (USSYP) held from March 5-12 in Washington, D.C. The Iowa Department of Education caught up with Kenny Lam, a senior at West High School to learn more about the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity during “Washington Week”.
Did the Washington Week experience help strengthen your leadership skills?
Without a doubt. Through learning from our nation’s top officials, my fellow peers, and members of the military, I found that I was able to strengthen my own voice.
When you met with senators, what topics or questions did you discuss?
In my meeting with Senator Ernst, I asked about any obstacles she uniquely faced as a female politician. Senator Ernst provided insight on how there are challenges for women who pursue political office and reassured me to follow my dreams. In my meeting with Senator Grassley, we were able to discuss bipartisan issues that are often underrepresented in the media. Senator Grassley provided an example of a bill he was actively working on with Democrats to reduce prescription drug prices (something that I was completely unaware of).
Were there other significant people you met with that had an impact on you? Were you also able to connect with other delegates?
My military mentor, Lieutenant Lauren Hickey of the U.S. Navy, had a significant impact on my program experience. We had daily debriefings in our mentoring groups, and it was there that I got the chance to truly know my peers. I learned about Lieutenant Hickey’s journey to the military and–overall–getting to know her really humanized the military and its branches for me. Additionally, I was able to connect with other delegates (before and after the program) through our individual social media platforms and Slack.
Did this experience support or change your decisions about your future career plans?
Before attending the program, I was almost certain that I wanted to study medicine and become a doctor. I viewed politics as too divisive of a career and never considered public service as anything of value. However, this program has led me to conclude that finding a middle ground is possible and it must be reached at all costs. Though still largely undecided, I’ve become more interested in pursuing an intersection of public policy and STEM to learn about how our government can actively improve health care.
Will this experience impact your future community and public service activities?
To a certain extent, this experience has impacted the activities I wish to be involved in as I enter college. I am partly inspired by fellow delegates and all the work they do in other organizations concerning racial justice, mental health, climate change, and more.
Share a few highlights or experiences from the program that were especially memorable or impactful for you.
My most memorable experience from the program was getting to deliver a speech during the Capitol Dome Open Mic Night. In a typical year, the event was a formal dinner that included eating a decadent white chocolate Capitol dome. However, the virtual dinner was just as memorable as delegates and I were able to talk about what the U.S. Capitol means to each of us. Afterwards, we all bit into the chocolate domes that were included in our welcome packages. It was surely inspiring, impactful, and tasty!
Another highlight of the program was hearing from NATO Deputy Assistant Secretary General Carmen Romero and UN Ambassador Linda T. Greenfield. Since Washington Week occurred while war was active in Ukraine, the concepts of foreign policy and diplomacy that each speaker preached were more valuable than ever. Both were extremely receptive to delegate questions which enhanced my understanding of our nation’s leaders.