Two of Plymouth’s finest students head to Washington

Hirsh Shekhar and Sasha Shilko selected to Youth Senate  

Each year, 104 of the brightest, highest-achieving and promising high school students in America are selected to participate in the United States Senate Youth Program.

Two young go-getters are taken from each state to visit the nation’s capitol for a week in March to meet with some of the country’s policy makers and political leaders. This year’s delegates from Minnesota, Sasha Shilko and Hirsh Shekhar, call Plymouth home.

“It’s really a top caliber crop of applicants,” said Ken Kaffine, Minnesota Selection Administrator of the Senate Youth Program concerning the application process. “These are some really bright kids. You see so much community service work and they excel at academics.”

Sasha, 17, is a senior at Maple Grove Senior High and serves as a University of Minnesota Student Association board member, where she also takes classes for high school and college credit.


She also founded the debate and speech clubs at Maple Grove Senior High and is the captain of debate and mock trial. Her other qualifications included her work teaching Russian immigrants, involvement with the school newspaper and volunteering at Menorah Plaza senior housing.

She is very excited about the opportunity to travel to Washington D.C. with the program.

“I’ve heard that it’s very fun,” she said. “Apart from that, from my understanding, it’s going to be a wonderful experience. I’m going to be meeting with a lot of senators, heads of departments, Supreme Court Justices and maybe the President.”

Hirsh, 16, is a junior at the Blake School and also has an impressive list of achievements such as Blake School Class President, debate state champion, forum leader of the Communications Committee at Blake and top scorer in math team.

Hirsh is also active at his temple and volunteers as a student tutor. He said he greatly looks forward to being a part of the Youth Senate Program.

“It’s an action packed week in Washington; meeting leaders and seeing how the Senate works,” said Hirsh. “And I think this year is going to be especially exciting because we’re going to be in D.C. around the time the Senate is set to deal with the fiscal cliff once again.”

Both students have a strong interest in politics and keep up with current events.

“I’m extremely interested in public policy,” Sasha said. “A lot of what I do in debate and speech has to do with public policy and current events. So it’s something I’m very interested in and excited about.”

Hirsh said he’s been interested in politics since middle school social studies classes, and he took it further when he began running for student government in high school.

Hirsh and Sasha expressed interest in a career in politics at some point in the future.

“My primary interest right now is service,” Hirsh said. “And I’m very interested in science and math so I’d like to see myself at the intersection of service and science. For example, the position of Surgeon General.”

“A lot of what I’m interested in is what the Consumer Protection Bureau is set up to do, which is to make sure that the financial institutions aren’t putting the entire country at risk and that people’s livelihoods aren’t being gambled away through risky investments,” said Sasha.

The two applicants were selected for the Senate Youth Program from the offices of Senator Amy Klobuchar and Senator Al Franken.

In addition to the weeklong all expenses paid trip, each student delegate will receive a $5,000 scholarship from the Hearst Foundations.

Hirsh and Sasha are familiar with each other through the state debate circuit and expressed high esteem and regard for each other’s achievements.

“[Hirsh is] extremely accomplished,” said Sasha. “It’s difficult to do what he does and I’m extremely impressed.”

“I don’t know [Sasha] too well yet, but she’s incredibly nice and very knowledgeable,” Hirsh said. “She’s very well spoken and I know she’s very successful in debate.”

The Senate Youth Program has produced successful individuals over the years. Program alumni include New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, former President of the Progressive Policy Institute Robert Shapiro, Senator Susan Collins and Chief Judge Robert Henry.

“It looks great on a college application and it’s a pretty big honor that they get to go,” said Kaffine. “They get to meet their senators out there and get a feel for what they do.”

“I very excited to meet our nation’s leaders and to hear from them,” Hirsh said. “And I’m hoping their messages will inspire me, and I know that they will.

“I’m excited for everything,” said Sasha. “I’m excited to meet the other delegates and the people who will be giving speeches to us. I really can’t name anything I’m not excited about.”

The USSYP was created by Senate Resolution 324 in 1962 and has been sponsored by the Senate and full funded by the Hearst Foundations since inception.

Contact Brian Rosemeyer at [email protected]