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Q&A | U.S. Senate Youth Program delegate John Thomas Borowitz: ‘Student engagement is crucial for a vibrant democracy’

Texas High senior eager for insight into policymaking ahead of U.S. Senate Youth Program by Stevon Gamble | February 26, 2023 at 10:00 p.m.
Texas High School senior and student council president John Thomas Borowitz is gearing up for a week of historical and legislative lessons as a delegate to the 61st U.S. Senate Youth Program in Washington, D.C. Borowitz is one of two students in Texas and 104 in the nation selected for the program, which runs from March 4-11. (Photo by JD)

TEXARKANA, Texas -- John Thomas Borowitz is no stranger to leadership.

The Texas High School senior is president of the student council. He also represents the high school as the president of the Texas Association of Student Councils, leading more than 1,300 schools statewide in spirit days and service projects.

The host of a sports podcast, Borowitz also is manager of the varsity basketball team.

By the weekend, Borowitz will add another line to his résumé: U.S. Senate Youth Program delegate.

In the official announcement of Borowitz's selection, the USSYP noted the teenager's work with the state association of student councils.

"He created a digital space to match requests from local food pantries and local homeless shelters with student organizations and local churches that solicit and facilitate donations. This tool ensures the needs of the community are efficiently met," the announcement states.

Borowitz is one of two students from Texas chosen for the 61st annual program; he will be joined in Washington by Sonya Kulkarni of Houston.

The USSYP annually selects two students from each state, the District of Columbia and the Department of Defense Education system overseas. The total number selected is 104.

This year's weeklong program is March 4-11 in Washington, D.C.

"During Washington Week the student delegates meet and learn from the highest level elected and appointed officials in Washington. The delegates attend briefings and meetings with senators, the president, a justice of the Supreme Court, cabinet members, federal agency leaders and senior members of the national media," according to the program's website.

The Advisory Committee for the 2023 USSYP is honorary co-chairs Vice President Kamala D. Harris, Sen. Charles E. Schumer (majority leader) and Sen. Mitch McConnell (Republican leader); Senate co-chairs John Hickenlooper (D-Colo.) and Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.V.); and Senate Advisory Committee members Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Bob Casey (D-Pa.), John Tester (D-Mont.), Marsha Blackburn (R. Tenn.), Billy Cassidy (R-La.), Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) and Cynthia M. Lummis (R-Wyo.)

Beyond collaboration with national leaders, Borowitz and the other delegates will receive a $10,000 college scholarship. He plans to major in finance and has his sights set on formulating fiscal policies by working with the U.S. Treasury.

The Gazette last week asked Borowitz about the program and what he hopes to gain from it. His full answers are shown below, with minor editing for clarity.

Q: How are you preparing for the U.S.Senate Youth Program?

A: I'm making sure to stay up-to-date on all the latest news and current events related to politics and government. This will help me have a better understanding of the issues that senators and other officials are currently discussing and debating. I'm also brushing up on my knowledge of the U.S. Constitution and the legislative process. This will help me better understand how laws are made and the role of the Senate in the legislative process.

In addition, I'm making sure to pack appropriate clothing and shoes for the trip. Since it's likely to be cold in Washington DC during March, I'm bringing warm clothes, a coat, and boots to keep my feet warm and dry. I'm also researching the various monuments, museums and historical sites in Washington, D.C., that I'd like to visit during my free time. This will help me make the most of my time in the city and get a better understanding of American history and culture.

Finally, I'm practicing my public speaking and debating skills so that I can make the most of any opportunities I have to interact with senators or other officials during the program. This includes practicing giving speeches and participating in mock debates with my peers.

Q: Where will you stay while in D.C.?

A: I'm excited to be staying in a hotel near Capitol Hill. This will provide easy access to the Senate offices and other important government buildings that we'll be visiting during the program.

Q: Do you have any assignments?

A: During the program, I expect to have assignments related to the different sessions and meetings that we'll be attending. This may include things like taking notes on important points made by speakers or participating in group discussions about key issues facing the Senate.

Q: What excites you most about the program?

A: I'm looking forward to hearing from experts in the field and gaining a deeper understanding of how laws are made and how government functions. I'm also excited about the chance to meet with senators and other officials and to ask them questions about their work and their perspectives on important issues. This will be a great opportunity to learn from some of the most influential people in American politics.

In addition to these more formal aspects of the program, I'm also excited about the chance to make new friends and to network with other young people who are interested in politics and government. I think this experience will be a great way to build relationships and connections that could last for many years to come.

Q: What would you like to accomplish during Washington Week?

A: On the last night in D.C., one male and one female (youth senator) get to give a farewell speech, and my goal is to be one of them. The speakers are elected among their peers.

Q: What would you say to someone interested in applying?

A: "If you do decide to apply, my biggest piece of advice would be to be yourself. The program is looking for students who are curious, engaged, and passionate about making a difference in their communities. So, don't be afraid to share your unique perspectives and experiences. It's also important to highlight your achievements and accomplishments. The application process is competitive, so you want to make sure that you're presenting yourself in the best light possible.

"Be sure to highlight any leadership roles you've had, any volunteer work you've done, and any other experiences that demonstrate your commitment to public service."

Q: How have friends and families supported you?

A: I'm really lucky to have such supportive friends and family! They've been there for me every step of the way as I've applied to the United States Senate Youth Program and prepared for the Washington Week. My parents have been particularly supportive. They were the ones who encouraged me to apply in the first place, and they've been my biggest cheerleaders throughout the process.

They've helped me with my application, talked through my ideas for my essay and helped me with my travel arrangements. They're just as excited as I am for this opportunity, and I know they'll be following along with all of my adventures in D.C.

My friends have also been really supportive. They're excited for me and have been asking lots of questions about the program and what I'll be doing in Washington, D.C. They've been cheering me on and encouraging me to make the most of this incredible opportunity.

Q: Do you think student engagement is important in government? Why or why not?

A: As a young person, I strongly believe that student engagement is super important in government. It is the youth who will inherit the decisions made by those in power today, and it is crucial that we have a say in the direction our country takes.

First and foremost, student engagement in government can lead to policies that better reflect the needs and values of young people. Youth voices often go unheard or underrepresented in government decision-making, leading to policies that are not always in our best interest. By actively engaging with government officials and participating in the political process, we can help to shape policies that align with our values and better serve our communities.

Moreover, student engagement in government can also lead to increased accountability and transparency in the political process. By staying informed and engaged in the issues that matter most to us, we can hold elected officials accountable for their actions and decisions. This not only helps to ensure that our voices are heard, but it also promotes good governance and encourages politicians to act in the best interest of the people they represent.

Additionally, student engagement in government can help to inspire and cultivate the next generation of leaders. Through participation in political campaigns, attending town hall meetings and even running for office ourselves someday, we can gain firsthand experience in the political process and develop the skills necessary to lead and effect positive change.

Overall, student engagement is crucial for a vibrant democracy. By getting involved in government and staying informed about the issues that affect us, we can help shape a better future for ourselves and for generations to come. It is up to us, the youth, to take an active role in shaping the direction of our country and ensuring that our voices are heard.

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