Student gets insider’s look at Capitol Hill

Monica Marciano, 17, from Front Royal, asks U.S. Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz about climate change during the Senate Youth Program. Photo courtesy of Jakub Mosur and Erin Lubin

HUNTLY – Wakefield Country Day School senior Monica Marciano came away from Washington Week with in-depth knowledge about political policies and some words of advice from the President of the United States.

Marciano, a 17-year-old from Front Royal, said she learned of her selection for the 54th United States Senate Youth Program after coming home from a basketball game in December. Still in her sweaty uniform, she snapped a photo with her letter and shared it on Facebook.

“I just had never expected to be able to win this … it seems so impossible just to be able to meet all of the incredible people that you’re meeting that week,” she said.

Delegates had to meet certain student leadership requirements to apply for the program, and Marciano said the required application test she took in the fall was challenging.

The program selects two students from each state every year for an all-expenses-paid week in D.C., hopping all over Capitol Hill. There, these student delegates speak to the movers and shakers of Washington: senators, ambassadors, justices and yes, the president himself.

Marciano said she’s grown her interest in public policy and government through things like competing in the We The People program and serving as a Senate Page over the summer. As a page for Sen. Tim Kaine, she said she got a lot of insight to the day-to-day inner workings of the Senate.

During the hectic Senate Reception, Marciano said she was able to connect more personally with Virginia senators and share future plans.

“It was kind of funny because when I met with Senator Kaine, he asked me. ‘So, do you think you’ll be running for my Senate seat someday?’ and he wrote that in my scholarship,” she said.

One of Marciano’s tasks during Washington Week was to introduce German Ambassador Peter Vittig before he spoke to the delegates about international relations and the Syrian refugee crisis.

Different speakers gave their own insight into policies and current issues: Delegates met cabinet members and representatives from the Department of State and Department of Defense. Marciano said that almost all of the speakers were very accessible to the students’ questions and would give autographs or take pictures with them.

Of course, meeting the president is Washington Week’s most notorious opportunity – and she said President Barack Obama didn’t disappoint.

“I was taken aback by the fact that he spent so long with us, because we’re just a group of high school students,” she said. “You could tell that he was putting effort and thought into every answer that he gave us and wasn’t just being there to be there.

“He said that you should worry more about what you want to do and not who you want to be,” she continued. “He mainly gave us a lot of advice about how to approach your career and how to be open-minded.”

Marciano has taken his advice and is keeping career pathways open for exploration. She said she’s considered studying public policy, law, politics and business at a number of universities, having applied to 10. Her selection will depend on scholarships and financial aid options.

“I think that being exposed to so many different speakers, you’re able to see how you can combine different majors into a career,” she said. “There’s lots of different areas that I would be interested in working in.”

And she said her cohort got a little something extra this year – while dining with their military mentors on their second evening in D.C., delegates learned that their $5,000 scholarship from the program would be doubled.

As an extra takeaway from the packed week, Marciano said delegates constantly networked with both the speakers and each other. Afterwards, they all received membership in an alumni network.

“Even when you graduate from the program, you’re automatically connected to so many different people that have also gone through the program,” she said. “I do think that the alumni network will help open up some doors, hopefully.”

Contact staff writer Rachel Mahoney at 540-465-5137 ext. 164, or rmahoney@nvdaily.com