U.S. Senate Youth Progam taps Cohen

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The LAHS senior was awarded a trip to Washington, D.C, a scholarship and a chance to meet lawmakers

By Bernadette Lauritzen

There’s a lot to be done in a day in the life of Keanna Cohen. The Los Alamos High School senior was recently selected as one of two students from New Mexico to spend a week with the United States Senate Youth Program.
LAHS Career Counselor Nora Arbuckle assisted Cohen with obtaining the packet for the submission process. The lengthy process included getting recommendation letters, writing an essay and providing a resume.
Cohen submitted the required materials and hoped for the best. In this case, the best worked out when she was notified that she had been selected to participate in the interview portion.
She then traveled to Albuquerque, as one of five other students for a one-on-one interview, an American History test and a debate centered on how prepared the United States is when it comes to national disasters.
“I left the interview feeling relatively confident, but also unsure since I wasn’t quite sure what the three interview panelists were looking for,” Cohen said.
Apparently, they were looking for her. In late November, Cohen’s mom, Stephanie Archuleta, received a call announcing that her daughter received the all-expense-paid trip to Washington, along with a $5,000 scholarship.
Cohen met up with fellow student, Kyra Ellis-Moore of Albuquerque High School. “She’s a really incredible girl,” Cohen said. “We didn’t meet until the morning of the flight and we were good friends right away.”
Cohen fondly called the USSYP experience “Washington Week,” and viewed it as a chance to meet students from across the country with a similar passion for public service.  
“One minute we could be laughing and singing songs, and the next minute we could be debating about border control,” Cohen said.
Students started the day with a breakfast buffet before heading off to see presentations by Justice Clarence Thomas, Secretary of Energy Steven Chu, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, CIA Director Leon Panetta and more. Cohen found that each speaker was a treat — whether she agreed with them or not.
 “It was an incredible opportunity,” she said. “I really enjoyed how straight-forward the majority of the speakers were with us. They didn’t talk down to us nor did they use concepts that were unfamiliar to us, they just spoke to us like every day people who would one day be in their positions.”
Students enjoyed three-course meals for lunch and dinner, while staying at the historic Mayflower Hotel. The delegation spent most of their time in the Mayflower’s Ballroom, a large room with decadent trimming, and often fell into bed exhausted from the day’s events.
A trip to the White House was regarded as a special event. The delegation entered a room where they waited anxiously for 15 minutes, for the 104 delegates and 40 adults to pose for a group photo.
“Finally, the people in the center of the risers started to whisper, and we knew the President was coming. All of a sudden the entire room went quiet, and he greeted us, just as any other person would greet us. It was incredible,” Cohen said.  “Whether you agree with President Obama or not, no one in their right mind would turn down an opportunity to meet him, nor deny that he is an incredible man that has come a long way in his lifetime. I just couldn’t believe the president of the United States was standing in front of me.”
Cohen said she was awed by the opportunity to see the President and became weak in the knees, while at the same time being observant of how gray his hair seemed, she assumed, due to the stress of the job.
“One of my guy friends was so moved by the fact that the president was standing in front of him that he began crying. It was amazing!”
Cohen was also impressed by the kindness of New Mexico’s senators, who took time from their busy schedules to spend time with students, while posing for photos and talking about their experiences.
Cohen said she has made a great deal of new friendships and stays in touch with the teens through the help of social media. One of her new friends is a teen named Kevin, from Maryland.
“Kevin’s dream is to one day be the first Hispanic president,” Cohen said. “It’s a lofty goal, but he’s a smart, open-minded, reasonable guy and what better place to start your journey than with a selective senate youth program. Plus, if all goes well, he promised me I could either be his secretary of state or first lady!”
Cohen is reminded daily of the experience and people she got to meet. She’s comforted in knowing that regardless of where she goes to college, “I will have someone I know nearby.”