A Fantastic Scholarship Opportunity and What It Can Offer: Two Colchester Students Take On Washington DC

President Barack Obama speaks to students from the 52nd annual US Senate Youth Program and joins them for a group photo in the East Room of the White House, March 13, 2014. (Official White House photo by Amanda Lucidon)

Arrows indicate Colchester’s Katrina Derderian and Chris Prado. (Official White House photo by Amanda Lucidon)

Two Colchester students have recently returned from a trip to Washington DC, having participated in the United States Senate Youth Program (USSYP) as recipients of the William Randolph Hearst Youth Senate Scholarship. They were among the 104 delegates from around the nation—two from each state, two from the District of Columbia, and two additional students associated with the US Department of Defense—who were selected as outstanding high school students interested in pursuing careers in public service.

US Senator Patrick Leahy talks with CHS’s Chris Prado and Colchester resident Katrina Derderian in Washington DC.

Colchester High School senior Chris Prado received one of the scholarships, which not only funded the Washington experience but also includes $5,000 to facilitate undergraduate studies. He is a recent inductee into the National Honor Society, and in 2011, he spearheaded a school-wide, grant-funded sustainability project called Net Impact High School. “The USSYP an amazing program and a wonderful opportunity not only because of the scholarship but also but because of the incredible experiences that it makes possible,” he said.

Colchester resident Katrina Derderian, who is an honor student and the president of the student council at Rice Memorial High School, also won the scholarship.

“To have Colchester represented by two such outstanding young people is terrific,” said Mari Miller, who has served on the William Randolph Hearst Youth Senate Scholarship Committee for the Vermont Principals’ Association for the last nine years.

The highly competitive opportunity to visit Washington DC as part of this program, which was established in 1962, included visits to the US National Archives and Records Administration, Arlington National Cemetery, the National 9/11 Pentagon Memorial, and a visit to NASA Headquarters to hear NASA Administrator Charles F. Bolden, Jr. speak. And as a special surprise, the delegates enjoyed a question-and-answer session with astronauts aboard the International Space Station via live video! (Did you know that a 1988 Colchester High School graduate is a flight controller for the ISS? Please click here to read that story.)

The delegates also visited the Supreme Court of the United States and heard Associate Justice Antonin Scalia, who advocates for originalism in constitutional interpretation. They spent time at the US Department of State to hear Macon Phillips, the coordinator for the Bureau of International Information Programs, attended a discussion led by Christine Lagarde, the managing director of the International Monetary Fund, visited the Abraham Lincoln Memorial, and attended a performance of the National Symphony Orchestra at the Kennedy Center.

And that isn’t all. Prado and Derderian heard policy addresses by senators, cabinet members, officials of various executive departments, and others, met with President Obama, and enjoyed a dinner reception that included the opportunity to meet nearly seventy-five of the one hundred United States senators. “We spoke with Senator Levin of Michigan, Senator Corker of Tennessee, and Senator Tester of Montana, as well as Congressman Gardner of Colorado,” Prado said.

“Quite honestly, Washington week was the best week of my life,” said Derderian. “I think it was because I was with like-minded people who were just as interested in public service and this nation as I am.”

To access a Colchester Sun article about these two outstanding students and to read more about their accomplishments, please click here. And to view a great slideshow of photographs from the event, please click here. Be sure to watch for Prado and Derderian throughout the slideshow since they appear numerous times; there is a particularly nice photograph of them both at the 3:19 mark with Parliamentarian of the United States Senate Elizabeth MacDonough.

This is not the first time that students from Colchester have made their way to Washington DC to engage with the political process. In 2012, CHS student Hanna Orselet represented Vermont at the Girls Nation event and met with President Obama.

So what were some poignant takeaways from Vermont’s delegation in this extraordinary opportunity?

“One of the main things that a lot of the speakers stressed was to not be cynical and not get jaded by our political system,” Prado said. “The media often promotes the idea that there’s no bipartisanship in government, but the leaders with whom we spoke encouraged us to do what we could do and to remain positive. Even President Obama’s main takeaway was ‘Don’t be cynical, and keep an open mind and a good outlook on the way things are going.’ That is a powerful message,” he said.

“It was so refreshing to see how passionate a group of seventeen- and eighteen-year-olds could be, and it was truly inspiring,” said Derderian. “I am convinced that one day I will turn on the TV and see at least one of my fellow USSYP delegates on C-SPAN or CNN.”

This outstanding scholarship opportunity is open to Vermont high school students in their junior and senior years. Interested in applying for the 2015 event? Please contact Ken Page, the executive director of the Vermont Principals’ Association, at kpage@vpaonline.org, or click here to learn more.

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