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Association of Washington School Principals
Washington Principal | Volume 2– 2022-23


Wise Words From Our Two USSYP Scholarship Winners
United States Senate Youth Program
Each year, the William Randolph Hearst Foundation sponsors two high school juniors or seniors from each of the 50 states and the District of Columbia to attend the United States Senate Youth Program to participate in an all-expense paid, weeklong tour of Washington, DC, and to receive a $10,000 scholarship.
In Washington, the Association of Washington School Principals (AWSP) administers the program. Through the AWSL, AWSP sponsors the seven-week-long High School Summer Leadership Camps for student body officers, class officers, and other student leaders. A selection process is identified and implemented at each camp session, with two students being selected as finalists for the Senate Youth Program scholarships from each camp.
This year’s scholarship recipients are Rishi Hazra, a senior from Skyline High School in the Issaquah School District, and Claire Michal, a junior from Marysville Getchel High School in the Marysville School District. We asked them a few questions about their leadership experiences as scholarship recipients and AWSL participants. Here’s what they had to say.
What is a takeaway from your experience as a United States Senate Youth, and how will you use that to become a better, more effective leader?
Rishi: It’s incredibly easy to lose faith in the institution of our democracy when we regularly see highly polarized headlines and clips on social media and news networks. I myself had fallen into this spiraling belief that our government was failing at its most fundamental duty - to serve the interests of the American people. The US Senate Youth Program opened my eyes to the true inner workings of our American government and restored my faith in our democracy. We heard from esteemed speakers across the political aisle from the legislative, executive, and judicial branches. With doors closed to media, we received a unique insight into the nature of politics as a strategy. I also realized the big-name senators I had been “familiar” with prior to the program made up a very, very small portion of the 100-member Senate, with which it is easy to lose the sense of scale. Hearing from Senator Hickenlooper of Colorado, a co-chair of the program, I truly believe a number of our senators genuinely advance the best interests of their people, and this revelation alone was sufficient for me to change my perspective on our government. I also learned there is an incredibly strong apolitical backbone in our government that ensures the institution survives. We spoke with Senate Secretary Sonceria Berry and Senate Parliamentarian Elizabeth MacDonough. I was inspired by their incredible commitment – as individuals whose lives were in danger from the January 6th riot – to their critical roles in facilitating fair civil discourse necessary to the functioning of a proper democracy. It is this faith in our institution that I will now carry in my future leadership, as I genuinely believe it can help our nation realize unity.
Claire: I am a people-driven person in everything I do, particularly in how I think about leadership. USSYP was extraordinary and life-changing for a multitude of reasons, but all of which are products of the people I met: from my 103 other delegates to the Military Mentors, USSYP staff, and of course, the speakers. Every single person I met was insanely intelligent and talented but, most of all, just a good human. Being able to meet all of them not only inspired me to be a better leader but also encouraged and gave me a road map to become one. Through the conversations, shared experiences, and laughs we shared, they challenged my thinking, changed my perspective, and broadened my horizons. I’m very grateful I got to attend this program; it changed my life in many ways, definitely including how I will approach leadership in the future.
How did the Association of Washington School Leaders camp or program help you or contribute to your success as a leader?
Rishi: The Association of Washington Student Leaders fostered my growth as a student leader, providing me with opportunities to develop my leadership every step along the path. Although my experience with AWSL was primarily virtual, I had some incredible experiences with both like-minded and discordant perspectives. I discovered, also, for the first time, how civil discourse can bring about tangible solutions through our discussions on how to address gun violence, detrimental TikTok trends in schools, and student mental health issues. With each new subject, we tackled as a team at AWSL, new perspectives formed in my mind, and they molded over time as we engaged in constructive discourse. This is now a skill I regularly call on as I consider similar yet wholly different issues in my committee and determine how to address them when people from all over the political aisle are involved in the decision-making. I am eternally grateful to the Association of Washington Student Leaders for not only providing me with the opportunities to meet incredibly diverse students and pursue additional leadership experiences but also for exposing me to topics I hadn’t considered before and showing me how to serve as an effective leader.
Claire: Last summer, I attended Mount Olympus summer camp, run by the Association of Washington School Leaders, and looking back, it was a highlight of my year and high school experience thus far. Camp left me feeling full and inspired to dive into a new chapter in my leadership journey. The biggest way camp contributed to my success was by helping me feel more confident as a leader. When I attended camp, it was my first time being a part of my ASB’s leadership board. Although I had been a leader in different clubs on campus, I was nervous about what leading on a whole school level would look like. However, meeting so many amazing fellow student leaders and working through challenges together throughout the week. After camp, I felt so much more confident and inspired to lead. Camp was inspiring, rejuvenating, and so much fun I can't wait to go back this year!
Why would you encourage others to get involved in government and leadership?
Rishi: We often take for granted everything we see around us as normal. But it is not. It’s the product of decades of law, and it can be changed. We often complain about our government and corrupt politics and politicians. Perhaps rightfully so. We often ignore what happens in our government, escaping behind the ideology that it doesn't affect our day-to-day lives and therefore doesn’t necessitate our actions. But we have a duty to stand up for what is right, whether an unjust policy influences us or not. It is part of the same social contract we enter when we’re born and follow the laws in front of us. Even if it feels like an impossible battle to become involved in the government and fight for what we believe in, that very perspective makes it a losing game. I still remember when I expressed my intention to become involved in government and eventually run for public office, the people around me were skeptical, questioning why I should involve myself in something that they perceived to be corrupt. I firmly believe that change starts from the heart. If there is anything you are ever passionate about, care about, or something close to your heart, then fight for it. One of the avenues is there, in our government. And if the government isn’t the right path for you, that’s no excuse not to exude your leadership. Pursue other avenues, such as nonprofits, research, or education. If you care about anything enough, you can be a leader. And those are the kinds of leaders we need to shift the connotation of our government, so we can be proud and united as a nation. To encourage those of you impassioned about something close to you, I leave you with a maxim: beat the system to break the system.
Claire: I would encourage people, particularly young people, to get involved in leadership because it always presents unique challenges which force you to grow. If I had not pursued leadership, I would not have had half the experiences I have had or grown half as much. Because through leadership, you have to work with a wide variety of people and learn how to balance different perspectives. Ultimately I think that one of leadership's great gifts is it presents unique challenges that force you to grow and expand your horizons. Additionally, I would encourage as many people as possible to be involved and engaged with the government because it has such an important and widespread impact on people's lives. Government shapes our society, world, and interpersonal lives in so many ways. This is why I think it's important to keep as many people involved as possible because, ultimately, the government is a human system, something created by humans to govern humans. Therefore it’s critical that the government operates as a reflection of the humanity that it serves. In order to do that, it requires strong voices, and engaged citizens, so that is why it thinks it’s so important that people stay involved with government and leadership.