May 16, 2019 3:52 pm

Ho-hum. Just another day.

Checking the Outlook calendar, we see:

  • morning briefings with Senators
  • lunch at the Pentagon
  • tour of the Jefferson Memorial
  • afternoon meeting with U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts
  • Dinner and dancing at the historic Mayflower Hotel, with music by the U.S. Army Band

Sounds like a day in the life of a Senator or other government leader. But, for one action-packed week in March, this was the typical schedule for Zaira Bardos, a Running Start student at Pierce College Puyallup and junior at Orting High School.

“It was an amazing experience,” said Bardos. “There was so much to take in.”

Bardos won a prestigious $10,000 college scholarship and a week in Washington, D.C, as part of the annual United States Senate Youth Program sponsored by the U.S. Senate and funded by the Hearst Foundation.  Only two high school students from each state are chosen, along with select students from military families.

They spent March 2-9, 2019 in Washington, D.C., meeting face-to-face with everyone from President Trump to Supreme Court Justices, military officials, Cabinet members and national news media reporters. They toured the sights of D.C., attended a symphony concert and enjoyed great meals and hotel accommodations.

The purpose of the program is to educate and inspire high school students to pursue careers in public service through “experiencing their national government in action,” according to the program’s sponsors.

“I’ve always been interested in making a difference in the community,” Bardos said. “I think it was partly the way my Mom and Dad raised me. They always made sure that I was giving back and being grateful for all the opportunities I’ve been given. Not everyone gets those opportunities.”

Bardos has been active in student government since seventh grade and is now vice president of the Orting High School Associated Student Body (ASB). In Washington State, to be eligible for the national scholarship, students must have attended an ASB leadership camp in the state. Each of the 14 camps sent two nominees to Olympia last fall for interviews and tests as part of the application process.

“I found out I was selected in December 2018,” said Bardos. “I was in shock when the packet came. When I went to Olympia for the interviews, it was mostly high school seniors who were very smart and I thought there was no way I was going to get it. My parents were so happy. I’ve never seen my Dad cry before.”

In fact, Bardos was one of very few high school juniors selected for the program. One of her goals was to learn more about public service and politics. Her experience in D.C. certainly delivered on that promise.

“We learned about how government works, its strengths and its pitfalls, from all the speakers,” Bardos said. “I am set on becoming a civil rights attorney focused on immigration. I believe in equal opportunities for all. A lot of the student delegates I met in D.C. were interested in civil rights, which further inspired me.”

Bardos is in the first year of pursuing her Associate of Arts degree at Pierce College. She is considering several four-year universities after graduation, including University of Washington, Seattle Pacific University, Oregon State University and New York University.

“I’m so involved in my high school and that’s a balancing act with my Running Start classes,” said Bardos. “The classes here are definitely challenging me, which is what I wanted. I think Pierce is preparing me to do well in college.”

In the meantime, Bardos has been offered an internship at Senator Maria Cantwell’s office as part of the scholarship program.

“All of this has made me even more grateful to my family for the opportunities I’ve been given,” she said. “I would encourage any student who is interested in public service to become involved in their school government early on, even if it’s only in a small way, then build from there. You never know where it might lead.”