For the first time in five years, a Ketchikan High School student has been named a delegate in the United States Youth Senate program.
The program — sponsored by the Hearst Foundation — typically sends two students from each state as "delegates" to Washington, D.C., where the students learn about government, meet senators and Supreme Court justices, and shadow government officials throughout a week-long experience known as "Washington Week."
Washington Week will take place virtually in March due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Students chosen as state delegates also receive a $10,000 scholarship.
Kayhi senior and Student Body Association President Braxton Zink is one of Alaska's two delegates and is the third student from Kayhi chosen to participate in the program since 2006 — following Kiera O'Brien in 2016, Kyleen Luhrs in 2008 and Chelsea Goucher in 2006, according to information sent via email to the Daily News by Kayhi counselor Natasha O'Brien.
"The applicants must hold an elected leadership position," O'Brien wrote to the Daily News on Monday afternoon. "They are evaluated based on grades and their application, which includes two essays and letters of recommendation. Semi-finalists are selected, and those students must take a civics exam. After the exam, five finalists are selected for an interview. From the five finalists, 2 delegates are selected, along with 2 alternates."
Zink told the Daily News during a Tuesday morning interview that he started the intensive application process in late October, and received word that he was chosen as a delegate this past week.
A student must first be nominated for the program, and then complete a length application process.
"The first kind of step is writing two long essays and two short essays, having your transcript and having two letters of recommendation, one from your school counselor and another from anywhere," Zink explained. "And that first essay is about you and political activism, like politics, being involved in student government."
Zink also was tasked with penning persuasive essays about a political issue of his choice, and about "historical events in the past and how they kind of (pertaining) to today" — he chose the transition between agricultural and industrial periods of the country's history.
"I was selected in the top 10 of students for the state of Alaska," Zink said. "And then after that, they have me do a civics exam, which asked me about presidents, Supreme Court justices, certain amendments, certain court cases, just like social studies factoids."
He wrote another essay — this time about the topic of gerrymandering — and was advanced to the interview phase of the application process, which was reserved for the top five students from every state.
The half-hour interview included questions about the Alaska Permanent Fund dividend, Alaska's senators and their political affiliations, and what types of questions Zink would ask political figures.
"They just want to get a better understanding of you," Zink said about the interview.
From the interviews, two delegates are chosen, and another two students are selected as alternates in case either of the chosen delegates cannot participate in the event, which is slated for mid-March.
Zink said he has a lot to look forward to about Washington Week next spring.
"I think the most (exciting) would be just meeting a lot of interesting people, a lot of amazing individuals in our government," he said. "It's not decided yet if we are going to be able to see the president — it's likely not — but they have done so in the past and it would certainly be an honor to see President Biden as well. Like in the past, they've usually gotten us a talk session with a supreme court justice, military individuals, a multitude of senators and representatives. Because not only is this very supported throughout the Hearst Foundation and in schools, but it's also a program that's really supported by the federal government. Many, many senators (and) representatives are in support of this program. And so they do whatever they can in order to foster it and make it grow."
But it's not just the chance to meet influential figures that excites Zink. It's also connecting with other students.
"You're just able to communicate with them, with people who have similar ideas, or more importantly, different ideas than you," said Zink. "And you're able to communicate with those people about just the times of today, the current issues of today. And I'm confident that after this program I'm going to be a very changed individual, I'm going to have a lot of new ideas, I'm going to have a lot of changed ideas."