RONAN – Aidan Reichman didn’t really know what he was getting himself into when one of his teachers suggested he apply to the prestigious U.S. Senate Youth Scholarship Program.
It sounded interesting, the 17-year-old said, and because he really likes civics and politics, he thought he’d at least fill out the paperwork.
The process began with a written test, and from a pool 192 Montana high school juniors and seniors – all of whom are in student government – 10 finalists were chosen to move on to the second step, which was a video response to a series of questions from the Montana Office of Public Instruction.
In short order, Reichman found himself in the finalists’ pool, having about 10 minutes to prepare answers for a series of questions before taping his responses.
Among the questions, “What are the political ramifications of the death of Osama bin Laden?”
“It was kind of hard, but interesting,” Reichman said of the process.
Once all the testing was over, and the process far from his mind, Reichman was called down to the principal’s office over the school’s intercom earlier this month.
A good student who never gets in trouble, he was a little unsettled by the summons.
“I didn’t know why I was being called to the principal’s office,” he explained with a smile. “And then I was told – I was one of two people chosen for the program.
“I did a short jig.”
Reichman’s honor marks the first time a Ronan High School student has been chosen as one of two Montana students for the program, which has been operating since 1962.
The other winner is Allison Sawyer, a Loyola Sacred Heart senior from Missoula. Sawyer’s selection marks the 18th time the Missoula private Catholic school has had a student chosen for the program.
The two students will each receive a $5,000 college scholarship, and all-expenses-paid trip to Washington, D.C., in March, where they will join up with the two student delegates from each of the other states for an in-depth study of the workings of the federal government.
“I’m very excited – and I’ve never been to D.C. before,” Sawyer said.
Along with meeting the Montana congressional delegation, the students will visit the Senate, House of Representatives, the Supreme Court, Pentagon, the Smithsonian Institution, and most likely will meet President Barack Obama.
According to its website, the United States Senate Youth Program was established by U.S. Senate resolution to provide a unique educational experience for outstanding high school students interested in pursuing careers in public service.
In March, the student delegates will hear major policy addresses by senators, Cabinet members, officials from the departments of State and Defense and directors of other federal agencies, as well as participate in a meeting with a justice of the U.S. Supreme Court. All transportation, hotel and meal expenses will be provided by the Hearst Foundation.
“Being selected as a delegate to the U.S. Senate Youth Scholarship Program is an honor and a great leadership opportunity for students,” said Denise Juneau, Montana state superintendent for public instruction.
Reichman and Sawyer were selected because of their leadership ability and understanding of politics and American history, Juneau said.
In Montana, students complete an exam on current politics, American history and the U.S. Constitution.
Sawyer said the experience will only add to her growing interest in pursuing a possible career in political journalism, and she is intent on attending college at Harvard, Yale, Columbia or Reed College.
Wherever she ends up, the $5,000 U.S. Senate Youth Scholarship Program will certainly help achieve her dreams.
“It’s awesome, and a really big help,” Sawyer said.
Reichman said he plans to attend the University of Montana – but all that could change. For certain, he would like to study political science in college.
His ultimate goal is to pursue a career in public service, most likely as politician.
Frustrated by the 2012 fall elections, Reichman said he wants to spark positive change at a state and national level.
“I believe that we need compromise,” he said. “It’s really time.”
What the nation doesn’t need is more politicians who don’t stand behind their word.
“We don’t need more hypocrites,” Reichman said. “We need honest politicians.
“That’s the goal – I’m shooting for the day when you say someone is an honest politicians, it’s not an oxymoron.”
Reporter Betsy Cohen can be reached at 523-5253 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.