DODEA Europe seniors among nation’s top student leaders in D.C.
By JENNIFER H. SVAN | STARS AND STRIPES Published: March 8, 2017
KAISERSLAUTERN, Germany — Two American students attending Defense Department schools overseas are getting a close-up look at the federal government this week while meeting some of the country’s top leaders.
Seniors John Casey of Ramstein High School and Emma Rook of Ankara High School in Turkey are representing the Department of Defense Education Activity in the 55th annual United States Senate Youth Program in Washington, D.C., a program for the nation’s top student leaders.
The two are among 104 delegates — two from each state, the District of Columbia and DODEA — chosen to participate in an intensive week-long study of the federal government and policymakers.
Hearst Foundations pay for all transportation, hotel and meal expenses, and each delegate receives a $10,000 college scholarship.
The students so far this week have heard from Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and met with Supreme Court Chief Justice John G. Roberts, among others, according to the program’s Twitter page. They’re expected to meet their congressional representatives and President Donald Trump, Casey and Rook said in interviews last week, a few days before leaving for Washington.
The two students have an eye on a future career on politics and hope the experience helps to further shape those goals, they said.
“Whether you agree or disagree with certain leaders and their politics, this is still an opportunity of a lifetime,” Rook said. “The fact that you still get to have a discussion with them. You always want to know the opposite opinion ... and why they think that way, perhaps opening your perspective and what you think.”
Casey will be attending Trump’s alma mater, the Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania. If given the chance to ask the president a question, he said he’d ask him how his business education and experience “can translate into public policy.”
“Meeting the president of the United States is an incredible honor and something I take very serious, regardless of who it is,” Casey said.
Casey and Rook are well-versed in American politics, having conquered the demanding application process, which included a multiple-choice and essay test on U.S. government, history and current events.
But perhaps the most nerve-wracking component was sitting before a video camera and answering impromptu questions, with no retakes, do-overs or editing allowed.
Casey and Rook paraphrased some of the questions they remembered: Is the North American Free Trade Agreement helpful or hurtful toward the United States? If you happened to be in an elevator with Defense Secretary James Mattis, what issue would you raise? Why did the Supreme Court nomination of Merrick Garland stall?
“It was a very long and difficult process but I’m really happy I went through it,” Rook said.
Rook, 17, hopes to study international relations and politics, an interest fostered by a life so far spent entirely overseas and learning foreign languages. She’s also lived in China and Japan. She speaks Korean, Mandarin Chinese and is learning Spanish and Turkish.
For Casey, 18, the application process has been a test of perseverance. After applying for the program his junior year and being named an alternate for DODEA, he decided to apply again, despite having to do so while his mother fought cancer, a battle she lost around the same time Casey found out he was selected for this year’s program.
“That’s something she instilled in me,” Casey said of his mother, Jill. “You’re not always going to get everything you want the first time, but if you don’t, try again.”
“She and I talked about a politics a lot,” he said. “She fostered that interest in politics for me and this really is the culmination of that.”