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California Department of Education
News Release
Release: #18-82
December 10, 2018
Contact: Dina Fong
Phone: 916-319-0818

State Superintendent Torlakson Announces California High School Students to the 2019 U.S. Senate Youth Program

SACRAMENTO—State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson today named two outstanding high school students to represent California in the 57th annual United States Senate Youth Program (USSYP), sponsored by the William Randolph Hearst Foundation.

Lauren Kong of Rancho Palos Verdes (Los Angeles County), a senior at Palos Verdes Peninsula High School in the Palos Verdes Unified School District, and Cindy Aguilar-Castaneda of Gonzales (Monterey County), a senior at Gonzales High School in the Gonzales Unified School District, were selected for their outstanding leadership qualities, scholastic achievement, and contributions to their schools and communities.                         

“These outstanding students are among the best and brightest leaders in their schools and communities and have a heart for public service,” Torlakson said. “They are strong advocates who desire to make our world a better place. I am amazed at all they have done in their young lives and look forward to seeing what they will accomplish in their future. I know they will achieve great things due to their commitment and dedication. They make me optimistic for our future.”

Torlakson also selected two alternates in the event that one or both of the delegates are unable to attend. The first alternate is Channing Lee of Fullerton (Orange County), a senior at Cornelia Connelly School in Anaheim. The second alternate is Gabriel Drill of La Cañada Flintridge (Los Angeles County), a senior at La Cañada High School in the La Cañada Unified School District.                                            

The delegates and alternates are scheduled to be recognized by the State Board of Education during its January 9–10, 2019, meeting in Sacramento.

To qualify for the program, high school juniors or seniors must be currently serving in an elected or appointed leadership capacity in a student government, civic or educational organization and express an interest in pursuing a career in public service. They are then nominated by their high school principal.

A selection committee from the California Department of Education (CDE) reviews eligible nominees, and Torlakson selects the awardees based on the quality of the application, demonstrated qualities of leadership, academic achievement, involvement in school and community activities, extracurricular activities, interpersonal and communication skills, knowledge of American government and history, and commitment to public service.

The USSYP provides a yearly opportunity for selected students to gain an in-depth view of the Senate and the federal government overall as well as a deeper understanding of the legislative, judicial and executive branches, according to the national website External link opens in new window or tab.. The program provides a foundation of knowledge and encouragement for those who wish to pursue a career in public service.

Two student leaders from each state, the District of Columbia, and the Department of Defense Education Activity each receive a $10,000 scholarship and attend a one-week all-expenses paid trip to Washington, D.C. from March 2–9, 2019.

For more information, please visit the CDE’s United States Senate Youth Program web page.

The following are synopses compiled from their applications:

Lauren Kong — Delegate

Rancho Palos Verdes

Los Angeles County

Lauren Kong is a senior at Palos Verdes Peninsula High School in the Palos Verdes Unified School District and currently serves as the Student Member of the Palos Verdes Peninsula Unified School District Board of Education. She was also a top 3 finalist for the Student Member position on the California State Board of Education. A certified welder by the American Welding Society, Lauren volunteers for a non-profit that rehabilitates former gang members and inmates in the Los Angeles area. She plans to double major in political science and mechanical engineering in college, and combine her two passions to draft effective and legislation to help utilize technology to revolutionize society and do good.

Cindy Aguilar-Castaneda — Delegate


Monterey County

Cindy Aguilar-Castaneda is a senior at Gonzales High School in the Gonzales Unified School District. She is a Youth Commissioner with the Gonzales Youth Council, the official youth advisory group to the Gonzales City Council and Gonzales Unified School District. She is a founder and mentor of Mentoring in New Dimensions (MIND), a peer-mentoring club that focuses on first-generation college students. She would like to attend Stanford University and major in political science and public policy, ultimately obtaining a Ph.D. As a first-generation college student and the first to graduate high school in her family, Cindy desires to work with state and federal politicians to implement new policies and connect them to members of disadvantaged communities.

Channing Lee — First Alternate


Orange County

Channing Lee is a senior at Cornelia Connelly School in Anaheim and is Associated Student Body President at her school. She is Editor-in-Chief of her school newspaper, involved with the Mock Trial team, and is active in drama, music, and volleyball. An American Protégé piano competition winner, she has performed at Carnegie Hall twice. Channing hopes to attend Yale or Georgetown University and major in international relations followed by a law degree to further equip herself with skills necessary for a career in public service. She wants to give back to her community by helping others, whether as a lawyer fighting for justice or as a diplomat striving to improve American interests abroad.

Gabriel Drill — Second Alternate

La Cañada Flintridge

Los Angeles County

Gabriel Drill is a senior at La Cañada High School in the La Cañada Unified School District. He was appointed through a competitive selection process to serve as Chair of the La Cañada City Youth Council. He is active in the YMCA Youth and Government Program, serving as Delegation President for the fourth year in a row. He volunteers at a residential shelter for women and children and assembles care packages for veterans and military individuals stationed overseas. Gabriel would like to attend Yale and pursue dual degrees in public policy and business followed by graduate school. His future goals include starting a non-profit to research a cure for diabetes and serving as the Chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers, helping to formulate domestic and international economic policies to better our nation and the world.

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Tom Torlakson — State Superintendent of Public Instruction
Communications Division, Room 5602, 916-319-0818, Fax 916-319-0100

Last Reviewed: Wednesday, June 9, 2021
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