Senior Brent Ashley meets Obama, key Congressmen during memorable week in D.C.

With the debate over health care reform reaching its zenith, the week of March 6 to 13 was an historic one in United States history. It also was momentous time in the life of Lake Forest High School senior Brent Ashley.

Ashley, 18, was one of two Delaware delegates to the U.S. Senate Youth Program, an educational program designed for students with an interest in public service. His selection for the program, which included a $5,000 college scholarship, gave him a unique opportunity to get a behind the scenes look at how things work in Washington, D.C.

Ashley was the first Lake student since 1979 selected as a prime delegate for the program, said Lake Forest social studies teacher Karen Williams, who helped shepherd him through the process.

“He’s a wonderful young man, sincere and honest,” Williams said. “He’s a leader in a lot of areas, and he’s well liked by the staff and his peers.”

The Felton native seems to have public service in his blood. His father is a retired state trooper and his mother works for the state courts. He’s been selected as governor of Delaware Boys State this summer, won a statewide contest to predict the Electoral College winner in the 2008 election, sits on the high school student council, is an FFA chapter president and a member of the National Honor Society.
All of his activities keep him busy, but it’s a good busy, Ashley said.

“There are times when it gets pretty hectic, but I don’t look at it as a burden because I know there will be a time when it all pays off,” he said.

If Ashley felt a little overwhelmed when he got to Washington and met his fellow program members, that quickly wore off.

“When I got there, I thought, ‘Wow, these people are really smart, what am I doing here?’ But as the week went on, we all learned together. I learned we deserved to be there.”

And it was a whirlwind week, taking place while Republicans and Democrats, liberals and conservatives battled among themselves and in the court of public opinion for the upper hand in the ongoing debate over health care reform.

But Ashley and his fellow students really only circled the fringes of the debate; they were busy meeting government officials, from the president on down, and getting an insiders view of how things go in Washington.

“They took us up to the top floor of the Department of State, where the secretary of state and foreign dignitaries meet,” Ashley recalled. A piece of history – the desk on which Thomas Jefferson worked on the Declaration of Independence – was there, and they got a briefing from a deputy, as Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was not available.

Next was a private tour of the Capitol building and a White House session with President Barack Obama and Supreme Court meeting with Justice Sonia Sotomayor.

“That definitely was a plus there,” Ashley said of meeting the president. “He came in and talked to us, answered six questions, none of mine unfortunately, and had to leave because he was pressed for time because he had a meeting with the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

“He really cared and gave some very in-depth answers.”

The group also spent several days in Senate office buildings near the Capitol, where Ashley noted the ranking senators had the larger and nicer offices compared to their juniors. They also spent time watching in the Senate as its members went about routine business. An added highlight was that Delaware’s junior senator, Democrat Ted Kaufman, was the presiding officer, he said.

Even though recent events might have soured the opinions of some regarding the nation’s public servants, Ashley’s experience has heightened his respect for the mechanism of government.

“I think the government is very, very important,” he said. “I think it deserves more respect.

“I also think the more people respect the government, the more they’ll get involved, and they’ll have a better chance to pass their views on to the people who make the decisions.”

Despite all of this recent activity in the political arena, Ashley does have another passion: animal care. His parents own a horse farm and he plans to study veterinary medicine in college.

“Some day I want to open a vet clinic, and then go into public service when I retire,” he said. “I’ve always wanted to be in politics.”

“I don’t want to sound conceited,” Ashley added, “but it would be a dream to become a part of the U.S. government, the Senate or the House. I also want to serve the state. The problem is how much time I will have.

“It would be nice to work my way up there some day.”

For her part, Williams and the staff at Lake Forest High School think Ashley will be able to accomplish just about anything he wants to.

“Brent’s got a lot to offer and we’re looking forward to seeing what the future holds for him,” she said.

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