On Feb. 5, 2019, Uma Alath Menon, 15, an 11th grader at the Winter Park High School in Florida, was the guest of her Congresswoman, Rep. Stephanie Murphy (D-Fla.), to the State of the Union (SOTU) address of President Donald Trump in the House Chamber, after she convincingly won a SOTU essay contest organized by Murphy’s office on the importance of youth civic engagement.
On Jan. 9, Menon, was one of two high school students selected as a Florida delegate to the 58th annual United States Senate Youth Program (USSYP) in Washington, D.C. to be held March 7 to 14, and also eligible for a $10,000 college scholarship for undergraduate study.
Menon and Lorraine Nicole Angelakos of Coral Springs, were slated to join U.S. Senators Marco Rubio and Rick Scott in representing Florida at the annual USSYP Washington Week after being selected from among the state’s top student leaders to be part of the 104 national student delegation who will participate in the event.
The USSYP was created by Senate Resolution 324 in 1962 and has been sponsored by the Senate and fully funded by The Hearst Foundations since its inception “to increase young Americans’ understanding of the interrelationships of the three branches of government, learn the caliber and responsibilities of federally elected and appointed officials, and emphasize the vital importance of democratic decision making not only for America but for people around the world.”
Each year this extremely competitive merit-based program brings the most outstanding high school students — two from each state, the District of Columbia and the Department of Defense Education Activity — to Washington, D.C. for an intensive week-long study of the federal government and the people who lead it.
The overall mission of the program is to help instill within each class of USSYP student delegates more profound knowledge of the American political process and a lifelong commitment to public service. In addition to the program week, The Hearst Foundations provide each student with a $10,000 undergraduate college scholarship with encouragement to continue coursework in government, history and public affairs. Transportation and all expenses for Washington Week are also provided by The Hearst Foundations, and as stipulated in S.Res.324, no government funds are utilized.
Menon, a senior, now serves as one of three student senators in her school’s Student Senate, and as the regional president of the Future Business Leaders of America State Virtual Chapter. She was appointed as one of 15 global student leaders for College Board and as the first Youth Fellow for the International Human Rights Art Festival.
While in Washington, the student delegates attend meetings and briefings with senators, members of the House of Representatives, Congressional staff, the president, a justice of the Supreme Court, leaders of cabinet agencies, an ambassador to the United States and senior members of the national media.
In addition to outstanding leadership abilities and a strong commitment to volunteer work, the student delegates rank academically in the top one percent of their states among high school juniors and seniors.
Now more than 5,700 strong, alumni of the program continue to excel and develop impressive qualities that are often directed toward public service and among the many distinguished alumni are Sen. Susan Collins, the first alumnus to be elected U.S. senator; Sen. Cory Gardner, the second alumnus to be elected U.S. senator and the first to be elected to the U.S. House of Representatives; former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, the first alumnus to be elected governor; former Chief Judge Robert Henry, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit; former Ambassador to West Germany Richard Burt; former presidential advisors Thomas “Mack” McLarty and Karl Rove, and Pete Buttigieg of South Bend, Indiana, currently a Democratic presidential candidate.
Menon told India Abroad that in order to be selected, she had to go through “an extensive application process based on my academics, leadership experience, political interests, and service.”
She said she was thrilled to be selected because as someone with an avid interest in politics, “I will have the opportunity to spend a week in the nation’s capital and learn more about the responsibilities of federal officials and the importance of the democratic process in America.”
And, as icing on the cake, Menon said, “I will also receive a $10,000 college scholarship that will allow me to continue pursuing my interest in public affairs.”
She said, “I am honored to represent young people across the state of Florida as one of two youth senators from each state. I am excited to be able to meet members of Congress, Senators, Supreme Court Justices, and other elected officials who work to promote progress in our country, and besides, I will be joining the ranks of distinguished alumni of USSYP, which includes Senators, federal judges, and ambassadors.
“This experience will help me become a stronger leader and public servant, and it will inspire me to promote civic engagement and serve my community to my greatest ability,” Menon added.
Last year, when she won the essay contest, she told India Abroad that “I truly believe that politics, in a unifying way, provides a path to build solutions to societal issues. For this reason, I am very interested in politics and hope to run for office in the future in order to serve the country. “I have been involved with activism and political movements, such as gun control, net neutrality, and equality for marginalized groups — gender, racial, and other minorities,” Menon said. Menon’s parents, Ramkumar Kozhikote Menon and Shailaja Alath Menon, an engineer and entrepreneur respectively, hail from the Thrissur region in Kerala.