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California Department of Education
News Release
California Department of Education
News Release
Release: #22-58
December 2, 2022
Contact: Communications
Phone: 916-319-0818

State Superintendent Tony Thurmond Announces California High School Students for the 2023 U.S. Senate Youth Program

SACRAMENTO—State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond today announced two outstanding high school students to represent California in the 61st annual United States Senate Youth Program (USSYP). Fiona Lu of Irvine (Orange County), a senior at Northwood High School in the Irvine Unified School District, and Summer Sun of Chico (Butte County), a senior at Chico High School in the Chico Unified School District, were selected for their exceptional leadership skills, noteworthy commitments to their schools and communities, and academic and extracurricular achievements as California’s delegates in this highly competitive program.

“These extraordinary students are among the best of the best in their schools and communities and have already accomplished so much in their young lives. I know they will continue to achieve great things and be excellent representatives for California,” Thurmond said. “I am impressed and encouraged by their strong leadership, passion, and commitment to making positive change and helping those who are underserved. I applaud their civic involvement and their advocacy work on issues such as equity, mental health awareness, the environment, social justice, and more. Their dedication assures me that our future is in good hands.”

Thurmond also named two alternates in the event that one or both of the delegates are unable to attend the program. The first alternate is Nathaniel (Nate) Watts of Carlsbad (San Diego County), a senior at Carlsbad High School in the Carlsbad Unified School District. The second alternate is Sabrina Brandeis of Danville (Contra Costa County), a senior at Monte Vista High School in the San Ramon Valley Unified School District.

Sponsored by the William Randolph Hearst Foundation, the USSYP provides a yearly opportunity for selected students to gain an in-depth view of the U.S. Senate and the federal government overall as well as a deeper understanding of the interrelationship of the legislative, judicial, and executive branches, according to the national USSYP website External link opens in new window or tab., and provides a true partnership among government leaders, state and national education leaders, and America’s future leaders. The program provides a foundation of knowledge and encouragement for those considering a future in public service on the local, state, or national level.

Two student leaders from each state, the District of Columbia, and the Department of Defense Education Activity each receive a $10,000 undergraduate scholarship and an all-expenses-paid trip to Washington, D.C. for Washington Week and meet and learn from high-level appointed and elected government officials from March 4–11, 2023.

Students must be nominated by their high school principals to participate in the program. To qualify for the program, high school juniors or seniors must be actively serving in an elected or appointed leadership position where they represent a constituency in organizations related to student government, education, public affairs, and/or community service as well as express an interest in pursuing a career in public service.

A selection committee from the California Department of Education (CDE) reviews eligible nominees, and the students are selected based on the quality of their application, demonstrated leadership abilities, academic achievement, involvement in school and community activities, extracurricular activities, and commitment to public service.

For more information, please visit the CDE USSYP web page.

The following are synopses compiled from their applications:

Fiona Lu—Delegate
Northwood High School, Irvine
Irvine Unified School District
Orange County

Fiona serves as the Policy Director of the California High School Democrats (CAHSD). In that position, she helped launch CAHSD’s inaugural legislative platform by supporting youth-related bills on behalf of the organization’s members and created a Legislative Advisory Committee to improve the democratic process in supporting bills. She also drafts and sends advocacy letters. Fiona is one of three students from her school on the Irvine Unified School District Student Advisory Committee, where she advocates for mental health initiatives and student board member representation. She is a member of the California Department of Education’s Youth Advisory Council as part of the Communications and Legislative Team and has interned for Assemblywoman Cottie Petrie-Norris. Her community activities include serving as Partnership Director for Generation Upwards (GENUp) and co-lead and project manager of a local chapter of Dear Asian Youth (DAY), for which she researched a book available in different Asian languages that shows people how to report hate crimes. Fiona wants to explore majors in comparative studies in race and ethnicity, public policy, and education and learn about race and its intersection in every aspect of society. She has a passion to support the underserved and advocate for progressive policies to help marginalized groups stand in solidarity.

Summer Sun—Delegate
Chico High School, Chico
Chico Unified School District
Butte County

Summer is Associated Student Body (ASB) president at her school, where she oversees schoolwide functions and student activities, reports at district board meetings, and leads student government. She has been in student government every year since ninth grade and has served as class president, ASB secretary, and the School Site Council. She is the president of the Student’s Organized Friendship Alliance Club, whose mission is to practice social skills with special education students and create a safe space to celebrate everyone's differences. She founded Read2Rise, a nonprofit, global youth reading program in the local community, Haiti, and China that raises funds to donate books and supplies for children in poverty and pairs high school students as reading pals for 200 local kids from economically disadvantaged families. Her passion for volunteerism has earned her the President’s Volunteer Service Gold Award and an Outstanding Citizenship Award. She plans to major in cultural anthropology with possible minors in public service/political science; discrimination, crime, and poverty policy; and international relations followed by a graduate program in law and government. She is committed to improving the lives of underrepresented groups and minorities.

Nathaniel (Nate) Watts—First Alternate
Carlsbad High School, Carlsbad
Carlsbad Unified School District
San Diego County

Nate serves as a student representative for the Superintendent’s Student Advisory Council at Carlsbad Unified, where he represents student interests and provides feedback to the district superintendent and the leadership team. He serves as president and captain of the Speech and Debate Team, vice president of the Indian Culture Club and Mock Trial, a delegate of the Model United Nations, and first baseman of the baseball team. Nate was also recognized as the team’s most inspirational player. He mentors younger students on the debate team as well as elementary students through the Carlsbad Unified Champions, a districtwide group of students. Nate developed a strong interest in politics and civic engagement during his time as a Democratic Congressional Campaign Summer Fellow, where he participated in voter registration strategizing, organizing town halls, and inspiring youth involvement in politics. A National Merit Semifinalist and AP Scholar with Honor, Nate has achieved a perfect score on the AP English Language Exam. He hopes to study political science and international relations with a focus on the impacts and mitigation of environmental crises. He wants to dedicate his life to public service to create safer, sustainable communities for generations to come.

Sabrina Brandeis—Second Alternate
Monte Vista High School, Danville
San Ramon Valley Unified School District
Contra Costa County

Sabrina serves as a youth commissioner on the Danville Parks and Recreation Commission and represents Danville’s teens in the planning of recreational activities and the management of parks as well as participating in decisions that improve Danville’s public spaces. She has also served on the Danville Town Council for five years to represent the teen voice in her community through outreach and service projects. In response to antisemitic incidents, she and her sister created a project encouraging students to discuss intolerance in the community that was the Stronger Than Hate Video Contest national winner. As captain of her school’s speech and debate team, she won first place nationally at the Yale Invitational, placed in the top 10 at the Tournament of Champions, and placed fourth in California. She was one of two women from California to represent the state as a senator in the American Legion Auxiliary Girls Nation program and was chosen by staff as the Most Outstanding Senator for 2022. A National Merit Semifinalist, Sabrina would like to study political science followed by law school and work for social justice and fight unjust policies and bring justice to those who need it.

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

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