Five Hartford-Area Teens Selected For National Student Leadership Summit In D.C.
By JESSE RIFKIN
July 25, 2012
HARTFORD – — Martha Olang was admittedly "never that interested in politics" even upon being selected as one of five Hartford high school students to travel to Washington D.C.
Early in the trip, she encountered her congressman, U.S. Rep. John Larson, in the Capitol building. "I asked him where the bathroom was," Olang tells. "I didn't know who he was."
But Olang, a rising senior at Hartford Academy of Math and Science, allowed her mind to be changed.
"Watching an actual debate on the floor of Congress and hearing guest speakers talk policy really opened my eyes to what politics is and what it could be in the future," she said.
Olang joined four other Hartford students – selected from about 90 applications – in attending a national Student Leadership Summit last week. There they met politicians, including U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, toured monuments and government buildings, and participated in a 'mock Congress' with hundreds of teens from across the country.
Sponsored by Bank of America Charitable Foundation, "the students were chosen based on service and volunteerism, academics, and recommendations," according to Bank Of America Senior Vice President Dean Andrews.
One such student was Raissa Lana, rising senior at the Hartford Public's Academy of Engineering.
Among her most meaningful experiences was hearing guest speakers including Melanie Barnes, President Obama's former Director of the Domestic Policy Council, andBarbara Bush, PresidentGeorge W. Bush's daughter and President of the nonprofit Global Health Corps.
"It taught me that leadership comes in many different shapes and forms," said Lana, who wants to become an architectural engineer. "Leadership is not defined by a person but by an act."
Among other achievements, Lana captained her school's robotic team to an undefeated season and 16th-place finish at this year's nationals in St. Louis.
Marco Aurelien, a 2012 graduate of Classical Magnet School, was on a bus traveling from a track meet when a call arrived announcing he was selected for the trip.
"I told the bus driver to stop," Aurelien recalled, "since I was running around."
He appreciated the mock Congress simulation most of all as a valuable insight.
"We were debating actual legislation, such as the DREAM Act, with people from all over the country with different viewpoints," he explained.
Aurelien – who qualified for Junior Classical League nationals this year in North Carolina, focusing on Latin – now heads to Providence College on full academic scholarship, majoring in biology to become an athletic trainer.
Eboni Hylton, a 2012 graduate of Hartford Public's Nursing Academy, agreed the program taught her to be more open-minded.
"Not everybody is going to think the way you do," acknowledged Hylton, a drill team captain who took her team to a third-place finish in the world. Hylton will attend Southern Connecticut State University and major in chemistry.
Olang won the 2011 state Boys and Girls Club Youth of the Year as a sophomore – a prize usually awarded to seniors – and received first place in a national photography contest. Speaking to Blumenthal was particularly helpful.
"We were allowed to ask him important questions, especially about education," Olang said.
The final participant Damien Gunn is a rising senior at Suffield High, and has participated in service projects including tsunami relief efforts in Japan.
All five students also received paid eight-week summer internships with the Boys and Girls Club. "They will act in the same role as youth development professionals," explained Director of Program Services Chad Williams.
Despite a greater appreciation for government and a finer understanding of politics, teenagers will always be teenagers and one memory from Washington D.C. truly stood out in Marco Aurelien's mind.
"The food at the hotel was five-star," raved Aurelien. "I mean, the mashed potatoes were on point."
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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