An Orange County School of the Arts student with aspirations of public service and a very impressive resume will represent California in the 54th annual United States Senate Youth Program.
Zena Meyer of Irvine secured the prestigious appointment following a rigorous review process that narrowed a field of nominees to just two finalists and a pair of alternatives. In March, the high school junior will travel to Washington, D.C. to study the federal government as a guest of the U.S. Senate.
“I’m so incredibly grateful,” Zena, 16, told the OCDE Newsroom. “I’m really lucky to have the opportunity to learn new things through this experience.”
The United States Senate Youth Program annually offers this opportunity for civic-minded students to gain insight into the federal government and the interrelationship of the legislative, judicial and executive branches. Two student leaders are selected from each state, the District of Columbia and the Department of Defense Education Activity to receive a $5,000 scholarship and attend a one-week, all-expense-paid trip to the nation’s capital.
In California, State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson made the final selections based on a criteria that factored in academic achievement, interpersonal skills, leadership, community service and knowledge of American government and U.S. history.
Zena checks all of these boxes. Not only is she carrying a 4.5 grade-point-average at Orange County School of the Arts in Santa Ana, she’s her school’s Southern Empire Region Senator for the Southern California Junior State of America — the organization prepares high schoolers for involvement and leadership in a democratic society — as well as the chapter co-president. She’s also a contributor to the Los Angeles Times High School Insider and the community service coordinator for her school’s National Honor Society.
If that weren’t enough, she’s a volunteer at the Pacific Marine Mammal Center, a volunteer coach for the South Irvine Dolphins swim team and the director of outreach for the campus Girl Up Club.
Zena said she heard about USSYP through a friend who participated and had an “amazing experience.” After submitting her own application, she was informed of her selection during her school’s lunch period on Dec. 4.
“Its was really such an exciting experience,” Zena said. “I had a phone message from (State Superintendent) Tom Torlakson, and first I was like, ‘Who is that?’ Once I listened to the message, I sort of started doing this dissolving screaming thing in the middle of the hallway.”
Junior Emily Lu of Maria Carrillo High School in the Santa Rosa City School District will also represent California in the Senate Youth Program. This year’s alternates are Joseph Rowley, a senior at Glendora High School in the Glendora Unified School District, and Jade Wong, a senior at Glen A. Wilson High School in the Hacienda La Puente Unified School District.
“I’m proud of these remarkable student leaders and their strong commitment to academic excellence and significant participation in public service,” Torlakson said in this news release. “The extraordinary opportunity they have received will allow them to broaden their knowledge of the political process as they observe the workings of government firsthand.”
It would seem to be a perfect fit for Zena, who hopes to one day land a position in the field of public service. Ideally her career will focus on an issue she cares deeply about, like studying the climate.
“I really hope that I’ll be able to give back in some way,” she said. “I know that no matter whatever I end up doing, this amazing opportunity will help me achieve those goals.”
You can find more information on the U.S. Senate Youth Program here.