Joshua Donophan wanted to join a program that sends students to the U.S. Senate for a week because he believes it’s crucial to understand how the nation’s government officials think and how the government operates.
Now the Lake Forest High School senior is getting a $10,000 college scholarship to do that.
Donophan and Smyrna High School senior Carl Rifino both received the U.S. Senate Youth Program award.
They will stay in Washington, D.C., March 4-11 for the program’s 61st Washington Week.
About the U.S. Senate Youth Program
Created by the United States Senate in 1962, the program has been sponsored by the Senate and funded by The Hearst Foundations since its inception.
Its goal is to increase young Americans’ understanding of the interrelationships of the three branches of government and learn the caliber and responsibilities of federally elected and appointed officials.
Each year, two students from each state, the District of Columbia and the Department of Defense Education Activity are selected to participate.
Another goal of the program is to emphasize the importance of democratic decision making in America and around the world.
“I got the email and I was literally jumping in the hallway, I was going crazy,” Donophan said. “It was a great moment and I was glad I could share it with my friends and my teacher.”
Rifino had a strong emotional reaction, too.
“I was in the library for study hall, I saw the email come up and I screamed,” he said. “I grabbed my laptop, ran upstairs to my AP U.S. Government and Politics teacher’s class and I barged into her class and told her and I started crying for like 30 minutes.”
Donophan and Rifino don’t have many specifics on what each day will entail, and they were asked to not disclose what they do know will be on the schedule.
They will meet Delaware’s United States Sens. Chris Coons and Tom Carper.
“That will be a great opportunity for me and Carl to talk with them,” Donophan said, “and to actually ask them some questions and see where their minds are at with Delaware.”
Donophan serves as vice president of Lake Forests’ Business Professionals of America, and is heavily involved in the National Honor Society and Spanish club, which he serves as secretary.
He hopes to go to Columbia, Harvard or Princeton, and while he is passionate about the government, he said he’s not interested in the headaches and back-and-forth of politics.
“I think I’d be more suitable for something like law school rather than politics because I couldn’t necessarily do politics in my right mind and still continue to just be myself,” he said. “’I’ve always been told I’m very good at making my point clear in an argument but in a civil way.”
If law doesn’t work out, he’s considering pursuing a career in music or economics.
Rifino, who wants to pursue economics and international relations in college, said he wants to work in the “alphabet soup” of Washington D.C. – for N.A.T.O., the U.N., or at an embassy.
At Smyrna High, Rifino serves as an appointed student member on the district’s board of education. He’s also the class president, advisor in the debate club and a member of the varsity men’s volleyball team.
Outside of school, he’s completed more than 200 hours of community service in the past year and is the event director for Night to Shine, a prom night experience for individuals with special needs. He also was part of the inaugural Governor’s Summer Fellowship last summer.
The application process for the U.S. Senate Youth Program started in October.
Donophan and Rifino interviewed with a committee made up of people from the Department of Education. They then had to take a quiz to test their knowledge on general government operations and were surveyed on how they feel about things that are influencing the country.
They also were asked what caused their interest, how their extracurricular activities make them a good candidate and how they would benefit from the trip.
“What I’m hoping to get out of this experience is just getting to know how people think and how I can help the nation,” Donophan said. “The biggest issue that is facing our nation today is we’re too divided right now to do or accomplish anything.”
During Rifino’s time in the nation’s capital, said he looks forward to hearing from high-ranking officials.
“I want to hear their advice on challenges that many Americans face that will soon come to me in a few years,’ he said, “and I really want to get their tips and advice on how to tackle those problems.”
Raised in Doylestown, Pennsylvania, Jarek earned a B.A. in journalism and a B.A. in political science from Temple University in 2021. After running CNN’s Michael Smerconish’s YouTube channel, Jarek became a reporter for the Bucks County Herald before joining Delaware LIVE News.
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