Two Alaska high school students have been given the opportunity of a lifetime. They’ll be heading off to Washington D.C. as part of the United States Senate Youth Program.
They’ll spend a week visiting historic monuments, talking with U.S. Senators, and maybe they’ll even meet the president and his cabinet.
Back in 1966, Stan Selmer was student association president and senior at Skagway High School when he was selected for the trip to Washington D.C. But, when he finally arrived, Selmer’s military chaperone wasn’t too keen about his long hair.
“I had to go get two haircuts in the basement of the Senate building. Fortunately, I got a barber who was a decent guy and he didn’t charge me for the second haircut. But the first one was 25 bucks in 1966 dollars,” Selmer remembers. “That was about all the spending money I had with me.”
Selmer was among the first Alaska students selected for the United States Senate Youth Program. It’s organized and completely funded by The Hearst Foundations and targets students interested in public service.
To get into the program, students have to be nominated by their high school principals. Then, there’s a competitive application process. If they make it through, students get a college scholarship and an all-expenses-paid trip to D.C.
Selmer got to meet national leaders and pillars of Alaska statehood history.
“President [Lyndon B.] Johnson was president. I got to meet [U.S. Senator Bob] Bartlett, [U.S. Senator Ernest] Gruening, [U.S. Representative Ralph] Rivers,” Selmer said. “I didn’t get to shake the president’s hand, but I got to shake the vice-president’s hand. That was Mr. [Hubert] Humphrey. And, I still have tie tack that he gave me and that I wear occasionally.”
And, he was whisked around to various sites in the nation’s capital.
“We got to go down in the basement of the FBI building and listen to them – with no hearing protection – shoot a submachine gun,” Selmer said. “That was really neat. Hard on the ears, but still neat.”
Selmer said the trip was a good learning experience that had a lasting impact. He’s now retired after working many years for a utility in Skagway. But he also served four terms as city mayor and just recently filled in as interim borough mayor.
This time around, two students from Fairbanks and Juneau will travel down to Washington D.C. in March and pick up a $10,000 college scholarship.
Stella Tallmon is a senior at Juneau-Douglas High School Yaadaa.at Kalé.
Tallmon said she has become increasingly politically active. She’s participated in letter writing campaigns, organized events and testified for more school funding and against school gun violence.
At first, she and her fellow students felt intimidated testifying before lawmakers or speaking out.
“We realized that there are so many issues in our state, in our city, in our country that really affect us every day,” Tallmon said. “Even if they don’t affect us, they affect people we care about. And, we thought ‘Well, why don’t we do something about this.’ There are ways that students can get involved. Even if we can’t vote yet, we can still be civically engaged.”
Tallmon, whose role models range from newly-elected young members of the Juneau assembly to teenage climate activist Greta Thunberg, is excited about spending the week visiting historic monuments. She’s also excited about possibly meeting the president, the cabinet, and others like Senator Bernie Sanders and Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
“I’ve heard that you don’t get much sleep during it, but I’m definitely willing to give up that sleep in order some of the most influential people in the world,” Tallmon said.
Tallmon said she is leaning toward a career in the foreign service, perhaps in the Middle East.
Ezra Adasiak of Fairbanks is the other Alaska student selected for the United States Senate Youth Program.