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South Kingstown High School student Ryan Estus was recently selected to participate in the United States Senate Youth Program.

SOUTH KINGSTOWN, R.I. — South Kingstown High School senior Ryan Estus is excited about his opportunity to represent Rhode Island in March, as one of only two Ocean State students selected for the United States Senate Youth Program.

“It’s going to be a really cool experience — we get to learn what happens behind the scenes of government and how laws are made and get to talk to the people who make them, which is the cool thing about it,” Estus, 17, said. “It feels really good to represent the high school and this small town on such a big stage.”

He and Pilgrim High School junior Griffin Taylor will join U.S. Sens. Jack Reed and Sheldon Whitehouse (both D-R.I.) for the program’s 60th annual Washington Week, March 6-9.

Estus and Taylor were selected from among the state’s top student leaders to be part of the 104-student national delegation who will each also receive a $10,000 college scholarship for undergraduate study. Due to the pandemic, the 2022 program will be held online, through a comprehensive and highly interactive virtual education and leadership forum.

During the program week, the student delegates will attend online meetings and briefings with senators, the president, a justice of the Supreme Court and leaders of cabinet agencies, among others.

Estus said it was his AP History teacher, Andi Kenyon, who encouraged him to apply.

“I thought about it and figured, ‘I’ll give it a shot,’” he said. He applied in October and learned just before Christmas break that he’d been chosen.

Estus has always taken an interest in history – in third grade, he set out to memorize not only the names of the presidents, but the order in which they held office.

“It’s actually something I can still do today, admittedly,” he said. Politics and government “is always something I’ve been fascinated about – the history of how our country came to be. There’s all these different paths our country took as to how and why we do things a certain way today.”

His parents, Erica and Todd, took him and his brother on a trip to Washington D.C. when he was in second grade to tour the monuments.

“I always enjoy going back,” he said.

Estus also is no stranger to serving his community.

He is president of the South Kingstown High School Student Council and has been awarded the Rhode Island Civic Leadership Award. He’s also an Eagle Scout serving as assistant senior patrol leader and troop guide, and has been inducted into the Order of the Arrow.

He is a member of Rebels Inspiring Positive Lifestyles, selected to attend the Community Anti-Drug Coalitions of America National Leadership Forum. As the Rebels Inspiring Positive Attitudes Events Committee chair, he advocated for funding for mental health and substance abuse, and as president of Peer 2 Peer Group, focused on decreasing mental health stigmas and advocated for suicide awareness support.

While he’s still exploring colleges, Estus knows what career he wants to pursue. He plans to study cybersecurity and minor in political science and possibly earn a law degree as well.

Estus has already met both of Rhode Island’s senators before – at a national leadership conference in Maryland a month before COVID hit.

“We also got to do some lobbying with Rep. Jim Langevin, and that was for funding for mental health programs in public schools,” he said.

In the future he’d like to combine working in cybersecurity with forays into government.

“Whether that would be working with the State House or, at the national level, Congress or some other government organization like the CIA, I think that would be just a really cool opportunity,” he said. “Being able to solve things behind the scenes.”

The United States Senate Youth Program was created by a Senate resolution in 1962 and has been sponsored by the Senate and fully funded by The Hearst Foundations since inception.

The impetus for the program 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.”

Each year the extremely competitive merit-based program provides high school students - two students from each state, the District of Columbia and the Department of Defense Education Activity - with an intensive week-long study of the federal government and the people who lead it.

The overall mission of the program is to help instill within each class of student delegates more profound knowledge of the American political process and a lifelong commitment to public service.

In addition to the program week, The Hearst Foundations award each student a $10,000 undergraduate college scholarship with encouragement to continue coursework in government, history and public affairs. The foundation also pays for all trip expenses, and no government money is spent.

Delegates and alternates are selected by the state departments of education nationwide and the District of Columbia and Department of Defense Education Activity, after nomination by teachers and principals.

The chief state school officer for each jurisdiction confirms the final selection. This year’s Rhode Island delegates and alternates were designated by Commissioner of Education Angelica Infante-Green.

In addition to outstanding leadership abilities and a strong commitment to volunteer work, the student delegates rank academically in the top one percent of their states among high school juniors and seniors. Now more than 6,000 strong, alumni of the program include U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, the first alumnus to be elected U.S. senator; Secretary of Transportation and former Mayor of South Bend Indiana, Pete Buttigieg; and former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, the first alumnus to be elected governor.

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