ELEVATE: U.S. Senate hosts Oklahoma high school seniors


Students embrace advice to 'fight cynicism'
OKLAHOMA CITY (March 30, 2016)– After one of the most exhilarating weeks of their lives, two Oklahoma high school seniors are reflecting on advice they received, in person, from President Obama: “Think about what you want to do, not about what you want to be.”
 
Nathan Levit and Matthew Welborn met the President of the United States this month as part of the U.S. Senate Youth Program, an exclusive event that invites 104 young people from across the country to a weeklong insider’s look at Washington, D.C.
 
Levit, a senior at Booker T. Washington High School in Tulsa who will attend Princeton in the fall, is still unsure of which career to pursue, but his visit to the nation’s capital reaffirmed his passion for public policy. Through the program, he and the other delegates met with prominent officials from every branch of government and related fields, including members of Congress, a Supreme Court justice, an ambassador and members of the media. Their visit with the president included a 40-minute question-and-answer session.
 
“The big takeaway from a lot of the speakers was that we need to get people more involved and more informed,” Levit said. “In the midst of an election cycle, we need to encourage others to take the time to learn about the candidates and the issues. That’s something I’ve tried to do. I come away just thinking that’s more important than ever.”
 
Levit is no stranger to rallying the youth voice. Nearly two years ago, he founded Youth for Action, a small group of students who try to get more young people involved in their communities. To do this, they partner with other clubs and write opinion articles from a youth perspective for the Tulsa World. The club has transcended the walls of Levit’s high school, with members now at Notre Dame and in Israel.
 
Both Levit and Welborn said the greatest part of their week was uniting with other exemplary young men and women who live everywhere from New York City to rural Montana.
 
“Meeting all the different kids from throughout the country was very interesting because they were politically motivated, thinking kids who were interested in the same stuff as I am,” said Welborn, student council president at Norman North. “It was great to hear their perspectives and what it’s like in their states, but also really good, deep philosophical conversations and debates about what the purpose of government is.”
Levit, who has argued for a teen voice on his local school board, said he was inspired by a student delegate from Maryland whose school board includes a student member with the same privileges as any other member.
 
“It made me think there’s a model somewhere else. Maybe it’s possible here too,” Levit said.
Welborn is planning to attend the University of Oklahoma for engineering, then a law degree. He had never seriously considered a career in public service but now is considering a role in government. He said his fellow delegates took their once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to ask tough questions and in return got honest answers and solid advice.
 
“Throughout the entire week, for every speaker, no one was softballing any questions,” Welborn said. “The easiest question anyone got all week was when someone asked the President, ‘Any advice for us high schoolers?’ He responded with ‘Fighting cynicism.’ That struck a chord with me.”
 
Oklahoma’s U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe, who met with the state’s delegates, praised the program, now in its 54th year.
“Year after year, the United States Senate Youth Program gives students from around the U.S. the opportunity to visit Washington and gain a first-hand educational experience of public service,” Inhofe said. “This program is an investment. Not only does the Senate Youth Program recognize exceptional students, but it also exposes our nation’s next generation of leaders to the process of creating policy and shaping a nation. I am proud of the students from Oklahoma that are selected to join this year’s cohort, and I am proud of all of the students that are a part of this organization.”
 
When Levit met U.S. Sen. James Lankford, he said was impressed that the senator asked for his opinions on a debate Lankford had just delivered on the Senate floor. 
 
“I'm really glad that Nathan Levit and Matthew Welborn were able to experience the Senate Youth Program," Lankford said. "The Senate enjoyed having them participate in the program, and it's good that they were able to experience the Senate. Involvement in this program provides an experience unlike any other. It gives young people a window into the daily operations of the Senate, and it provides an opportunity for public service and leadership in our nation's capital. I look forward to seeing how these exceptional high school students will continue to serve our state, and our nation, in the days ahead.”
 
Both Levit and Welborn were nominated by the Oklahoma State Department of Education after going through an application process that adhered to the high standards set by the program. The Senate Youth Program is sponsored by the U.S. Senate and fully funded by the Heart Foundation.
 
Alumni of the U.S. Senate Youth Program include Robert Henry, former federal judge, state legislator and Oklahoma attorney general. He is the current president of Oklahoma City University. Other alumni include New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie; Richard Burt, former ambassador to West Germany; Thomas “Mack” McLarty, chief of staff for President Clinton; Karl Rove, deputy chief of staff for President Bush; Sen. Susan Collins of Maine; and Sen. Gory Gardner of Colorado. 
 
Delegates generally rank very high academically and have shown great leadership ability and a commitment to volunteer work. For more information on the U.S. Senate Youth Program in Oklahoma, visit: http://sde.ok.gov/sde/social-studies#USSYP.

Photo Credit:
With the U.S. Capitol in the backdrop, Matthew Welborn (left) of Norman North High School got a crash course in federal government as one of the two Oklahoma delegates to the U.S. Senate Youth program. Photo by Jakub Mosur and Erin Lubin.
---
Nathan Levit (yellow and blue striped tie) of Booker T. Washington High School in Tulsa got a crash course in federal government as one of the two Oklahoma delegates to the U.S. Senate Youth program. Photo by Jakub Mosur and Erin Lubin.
---
Student Nathan Levit met with U.S. Sen. James Lankford during his weeklong visit to Washington, D.C. as an Oklahoma delegate in the U.S. Senate Youth program. Photo provided by Sen. James Lankford.
---
U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe spoke with Oklahoma's delegates in the U.S. Senate Youth Program when the students spent a week in Washington, D.C. Matthew Welborn is a senior at Norman North High School, and Nathan Levit is a senior at Booker T. Washington High School in Tulsa. Photo provided by Sen. Jim Inhofe.
---
The U.S. Senate Youth Program is an exclusive event that invites 104 young people from across the country to a weeklong insider’s look at Washington, D.C. Photo by Jakub Mosur and Erin Lubin.

Elevate | Oklahoma Schools On The Rise
A series presented by the Oklahoma State Department of Education, ELEVATE chronicles the positive, innovative and inspiring things happening in Oklahoma’s K-12 public education.
Last updated on March 30, 2016