LA senior Scott Petersen has been selected as one of two Maine representatives to the United States Senate Youth Program, which includes a leadership education week and a $10,000 scholarship. Photo by Aria Tan ’20.
Lincoln Academy senior Scott Petersen is one of two Maine students selected for the United States Senate Youth Program (USSYP). He will join Senator Susan Collins and Senator Angus King in representing Maine during the 59th annual USSYP Washington Week March 14-17, 2021.
Petersen was selected from among Maine’s top student leaders to be part of the 104 national student delegation, who will each also receive a $10,000 college scholarship for undergraduate study. Due to the pandemic, the 2021 program will be the first-ever virtual Washington Week, “designed to be a highly interactive and exciting education and leadership forum for the nation’s most outstanding student leaders,” according to a USSYP press release.
The release continues, “the USSYP was created by Senate Resolution 324 in 1962 and has been sponsored by the Senate and fully funded by the Hearst Foundations since inception. Originally proposed by Senators Kuchel, Mansfield, Dirksen and Humphrey, the Senate leadership of the day, the impetus for the program as stated in Senate testimony is ‘to increase young Americans’ understanding of the interrelationships of the three branches of government, learn the caliber and responsibilities of federally elected and appointed officials, and emphasize the vital importance of democratic decision making not only for America but for people around the world.’”
The selection process is highly competitive, and two students from each state, Washington DC, and the Department of Defense Education Activity are selected to participate in a week-long study of the federal government. This year’s program will be fully online, and offer opportunities to attend online meetings and briefings with senators, the president, a justice of the Supreme Court, leaders of cabinet agencies and senior members of the national media, among others.
In addition to participating in the leadership program, each participant will receive a $10,000 scholarship from the Hearst Foundation.
Scott Petersen ’21 playing Nathan Detroit in the 2020 production of Guys and Dolls, which had to be canceled just before opening in March of 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
LA senior Scott Petersen is president of the Class of 2021, an award-winning debater, and three-time recipient of Lincoln Academy’s English department award, as well as an avid musician and participant in LA theater productions. He plans to study economics, politics, and policy at Brown University next year.
Petersen describes the USSYP application process as “fairly rigorous. First, I was required to submit a lengthy form, which included paperwork, letters of recommendation, a resume, and a short policy essay.” After state finalists are selected, they typically travel to the Margaret Chase Smith Library in Skowhegan for the final competition, but this year that process was completed online, and included a virtual tour of the library and introductions of judges and other finalists. The final competition included an interview and speech-writing contest, where each student wrote a four- minute speech about a subject they believe Americans need to unify over in the coming years. All nine finalists then presented their finished speeches to the panel of judges.
Petersen wrote his speech about the growing influence of China, and how the United States should respond.
“I grew up in the town over from the Frances Perkins museum,” begins the conclusion of his speech. “Secretary of State Perkins was the first female presidential cabinet member, and once said that, ‘In America, public opinion is the leader.’ Indeed it is; our national understanding of ourselves and of the world is what guides any democracy. Thus, we cannot demonize China, lest we risk causing increased nationalism, panic, and further division. We must inform our citizens truthfully. China’s growth is inevitable, and that means our national identity must adapt. But within that threat is opportunity, and we can evolve and ride this wave, substituting fear with unity and division with growth.”
Scott Petersen, right, with fellow LA senior and debater Riley Stevenson after the first online debate of the 2020 season.
“When the USSYP representative called to tell me that Scott had been selected, he made particular note that the speech he gave as part of his application process genuinely impressed the committee,” said LA Head of School Jeff Burroughs. “At LA we know Scott as an experienced debater and skilled public speaker, so I was not surprised to hear that! We know he will continue to do great things as he joins the ranks of the young senate leaders.”
Notable alumni of the program include Susan Collins, the first USSYP recipient to be elected U.S. senator; Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg; former Senator Cory Gardner, former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, and Senators Richard Burr (R-NC); Kevin Cramer (R-ND); Mike Lee (R-UT), and Roger F. Wicker (R-MS). Each year, the Honorary Co-Chairs of the program are the vice president of the United States and the Senate majority and minority leaders.
While Petersen has not yet chosen a major, he says, “I know that I will continue to study economics, political science, and law. I also hope to join the Brown Debating Union and I plan on staying active in my community whenever and however I can.”
“This is very exciting news,” said LA Director of Counseling and Studies Sarah Wills-Viega. “In my tenure at LA, we have not had another student receive this honor. This is a wonderful acknowledgement of Scott’s leadership and academic skills as well as his level of involvement in the LA community. Way to go Scott!”
“Scott’s achievement is a tribute to his own hard work and passion for public policy, and also to the preparation he has received here at LA,” said Burroughs. “We look forward to following his next steps at Brown and beyond. We know he will make us proud.”
“I’m extremely thankful for this opportunity, but the only reason I’ve made it this far is because of my family, friends, and community. Without the constant support of my parents and the love of learning that my teachers have shared with me over the years, I would have none of the opportunities that I’m so lucky to be able to participate in today. If it weren’t for the enthusiastic responses and assistance from my economics teacher Ms. Duffy and Mr. Burroughs, I might have never submitted my application. I’m so thankful for everything the community has done for me–I hope to learn lots of valuable information and bring it right back here!”