CONESTOGA – Jayden Speed has planted the seeds of his future career in politics with his passionate work in many activities at Conestoga High School.
He will see some of those seeds begin to grow this spring when he meets with many federal government leaders.
Speed will be one of two Nebraska high school students to participate in the 2023 United States Senate Youth Program (USSYP). Officials with the USSYP announced their choice this week. Lincoln High School student Kristie Phuong Vy Trinh will share the honor with Speed during a weeklong trip to Washington, DC
Speed said he was excited about the opportunity to visit with students from around the country at the conference. The USSYP delegation will include 104 teenagers. Two students from each state, the District of Columbia and the Department of Defense Education Activity will study the federal government and those who lead it from March 4-11.
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“I think one of the most amazing experiences is finding other people who share your passions,” Speed said. “I was drawn to politics and our government institutions from a young age. I look forward to discussing and connecting with other students across the country who share that passion.”
Taylor Hamblin works in the College of Education and Human Sciences at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. He assisted the Nebraska Department of Education with the application process for the USSYP. He said it was a great achievement for Speed to be invited to the program.
“Acceptance to this program is highly recommended given the limited selection of students who are able to apply, the limited number of those selected and the scholarship and opportunity that the program provides,” said Hamblin. . “Jayden was one of two Nebraska students selected to receive this scholarship.”
Speed said he learned about the program last year and began a rigorous application process. Hamblin said students had to meet several requirements to be considered for the trip.
“The application includes a written report on several civics-minded questions and an interview with Nebraska professionals who focus on civics education,” Hamblin said. “Jayden submitted essays explaining his leadership position, explaining his leadership philosophy, how he got involved in his community, his academic and personal interests and his understanding of civic topics.
“Of the original applicants, we selected Jayden and four other Nebraska high school students to participate in interviews with a panel of judges, all of whom are educators from Nebraska. The judges asked Jayden short-answer questions to probe his civic knowledge in the United States and Nebraska and open-ended questions that explored his leadership style and beliefs.”
Speed said he was thrilled when he got the news that the judges had chosen him as one of the two students to go to Washington, DC
“I worked on my application for several months and was interviewed in November as one of the five finalists,” Speed said. “Immediately after the announcement, I was honored to be selected as one of the two delegates from Nebraska and was excited to share the news with my family, friends and teachers.”
Nebraska Commissioner of Education Dr. Matthew Blomstedt announced this year’s state delegates and alternates. Silver Lake High School student Samantha Lee Bonifas and Chadron resident Thomas Anthony Kaus were selected as alternates. They would travel to Washington, DC, if either Speed or Trinh is unable to attend.
Many activities at Conestoga involved speed. The senior serves as Student Council president, writes for the school newspaper and participates in National Honor Society, mock trial, speech and a one-act play. He helped Student Council members organize the Seniors Day ceremony last fall and spoke in front of hundreds of people at the event.
Speed worked with administrators and school board members to include a student representative on the Conestoga Board of Education. He also represented students in an effort to change the school’s dress code.
Speed’s interests extend beyond the school walls. He has been involved with the organization Nebraska Students Demand Action since April 2018. The group’s main priority is preventing gun violence in Nebraska. He spoke at the state legislature and was a member of Michelle Bates’ campaign for Legislature.
The USSYP was created in 1962 by members of the United States Senate to help young Americans learn more about the US political process. They also wanted to inspire people to have a lifelong commitment to public service.
USSYP alumni include Senator Susan Collins, US Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, former US Senator Cory Gardner, former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, former presidential advisers Thomas McLarty and Karl Rove, former Idaho Lt. Gov. David Leroy and Wake Forest University Provost Rogan Kersh. Many health care providers, university educators, state legislators, military officers and federal employees have also gone through the program.
Speed and the other delegates will attend meetings and briefings with US Senators, heads of US Cabinet agencies and US Supreme Court justices during their trip. Each delegate will also receive a $10,000 college scholarship to use for their undergraduate work.