Feature Stories

Minnetonka High School Senior Selected as U.S. Senate Youth Program State Representative

The United States Senate Youth Program, established in 1962, is a unique educational experience for outstanding high school students interested in pursuing careers in public service. 

This past spring, Minnetonka senior Deepti Pillai ‘24 was selected as one of only two students from the state of Minnesota to participate in the week-long educational experience in Washington, D.C., which took place in March.

“I found this opportunity during my freshman year when researching programs for students interested in politics and government,” shared Pillai. “Although no Minnetonka students had participated in the United States Senate Youth Program, to my knowledge, I found some people I knew from Minnesota who participated in it through other organizations I was a part of. I talked with them about their experiences, and they strongly encouraged me to apply once I was a junior or senior.” 

Pillai noted that she was drawn to the program because it included an unmatched experience to visit Washington, D.C., and because several notable national political leaders, such as Secretary of State Pete Buttigieg, Senator Susan Collins, and former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, are alumni who participated in the U.S. Youth Senate Program when they were young.

Through the program, Pillai had the opportunity to meet President Joe Biden and First Lady Dr. Jill Biden after the State of the Union, as well as the chance to meet many other elected officials and national leaders in a variety of contexts—from speaker sessions to sharing meals.

“Some of my highlight speakers included Secretary of Transportation and USSYP alum Pete Buttigieg, Secretary of State Anthony Blinken, President of the United States Joe Biden, Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan, Librarian of Congress Carla Hayden, White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre, Senator Catherine Cortez Masto, Senator Bill Cassidy, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Charles Q. Brown, and US Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights Kristen Clarke,” said Pillai. 

Delegates were also connected with mentors from the U.S. military. “Military Mentors were a diverse group of active serving members from each branch of the military that had varying roles,” noted Pillai. “These mentors truly made our experience through sharing their life experiences and advice for us as aspiring public servants and leaders. My mentor serves in the air force, but I was privileged to learn about other mentor’s experiences as Naval lawyers, educators in the Space Force, and military doctors. This aspect of the program reinforced my appreciation for military personnel and expanded my understanding of the variety of roles they fill.”

“My week in Washington was unbelievable. The gratefulness and joy I experienced is inexpressible,”

Minnetonka student connects with state legislator

concluded Pillai. “Washington Week does a really good job of providing exposure to various perspectives and expanding your knowledge of politics and government. Not only do the speakers represent various political backgrounds, but they also serve in a wide array of roles—allowing for the true comprehension of the reach of impact of political decisions.”

The opportunities to interact with leaders also allowed Pillai to understand them as multifaceted human beings. “This week humanized such famous and important public servants through candid conversations and respect,” she said.  

Connecting with student delegates from other states was also a highlight for Pillai. “Being able to meet the brightest, most driven and accomplished students with varying backgrounds from all around the country was incredible. I am beyond grateful to know these people and to be able to stay connected with such incredible minds,” she shared.

At Minnetonka High School, Pillai has served as Student Government president and was instrumental in starting the high school’s annual Cultural Fair. She has been part of the VANTAGE Public Policy course, and she has interned with U.S. Congress member Dean Phillips.

Her advice to others interested in similar opportunities is to “Apply. Apply. Apply. I think what has made my high school experience so fulfilling was my desire to take on any and every opportunity, even if I didn’t get it or end up succeeding,” said Pillai. 

She shared that this school year was the second time she applied for the U.S. Senate Youth Program. “I applied during my junior year as well, however, I was selected as an alternate. If I had been deterred by this outcome, I would not have applied again my senior year and wouldn’t have experienced Washington Week,” said Pillai. “This emphasized the importance of staying steadfast in trying and applying for opportunities that excite me, even if I didn’t receive the best outcome; at least the first time around. This lesson is very important to me and has proved why it’s necessary to stay committed to what I’m passionate about. I am very grateful I jumped on the opportunity early so that I could apply again my senior year.” 

Pillai emphasized that understanding your personal interests is also an important part of making the most of such opportunities. “It is critical to take the time to understand what you are passionate about. Knowing how captivated I was by political decisions, voting patterns, government institutions, and social justice, I was able to cater my activities, programs, and classes toward this,” she shared. 

In the fall, Pillai will return to Washington, D.C. as a student at George Washington University majoring in political science and international affairs. 

Congratulations again on your achievement as a U.S. Youth Senate Program state representative, Deepti!

Minnetonka student smiles with another student and a state legislator

 

Girls smiling

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