Three men stand for a photo while two of them men hold certificates

David Daniel (left) stands with Sen. Rand Paul and fellow U.S. Senate Youth Program participant Heng Yang.
Official U.S. Senate photo by Rosa Pineda

The U.S. Senate Youth Program has truly been one of the most, if not the most, amazing experiences of my life. I can already begin to see its effect in propelling me toward my dreams.

I found out about the program when I was forwarded a link to an application form by one of my guidance counselors, Gabriella Hart. They accepted two upperclassmen from the state of Kentucky, so I put in my application, not sure whether or not I would make it in. I was happily surprised to hear that I would be going to Frankfort to participate in the second stage of the application process where I gave an interview and took a test. Later in December, I found out that I would be going to Washington D.C. for a week to represent my state in one of the highest-level political environments.

The memories made here have been countless and will be some of the fondest ever, I’m sure. You make friends from so many diverse backgrounds, and I can only hope that this network stays strong throughout my professional life.

Something that was extra meaningful about the program for me was my participation as a junior. Most of the scholars there were seniors who already had applied to college. Now I have the joy of seeing all these amazing students announce their numerous Ivy League acceptances and inspiring postsecondary plans. I had the benefit of receiving advice from people who are more experienced than me when it comes to scholarship applications, networking and career preparation.

If someone from Kentucky or any state wants to be a part of this program, I highly recommend reaching out to someone from your state who has participated. I personally received help from Luke Webster, a 2019 Kentucky U.S. Senate Youth Program alumnus, and his insight pushed me toward getting the position.

In other advice for those who might participate, use this time to the fullest. The program is made up of 104 of the most driven high schoolers in the U.S. You hear from intelligent government officials. You are mentored by members of the military. You are constantly surrounded by opportunities to learn and improve. This was the most amazing part of the program for me.

One of the most influential moments for me was hearing from the U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona. I got to hear his point of view on the importance of education and its current state in America. In addition, I was able to hear from U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor. She taught us the importance of perseverance, showing us that her road to the Supreme Court was not an easy one in the slightest. Overall, hearing from the keynote speakers from this program was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and I’ve learned lessons that I can take with me throughout the rest of my life.

It was my first experience where I was surrounded by that many people at one time who could help me grow in such monumental ways. Ask that question you want to ask, introduce yourself, be bold. The week is entirely what you make of it, so be yourself and soak up your surroundings.

David Daniel is a junior at Owensboro High School. He serves as the president of his class, National Honor Society president, and Speech and Debate Team founder/captain.