Grace Yoon (’24) accepted to the United States Senate Youth Program

Grace Yoon (24) accepted to the United States Senate Youth Program

A shy, anxious kid, Grace Yoon (’24) did not see an adult version of herself she liked in her predominantly white community or the wider world. When Yoon moved to Cherry Hill and founded the speech team with a friend, Ananya Balasubramanya
(’24), it was a breaking point for her – she despised public speaking when she was young – the team propelled her to discuss and voice issues she was passionate about which eventually segued to politics.

“Giving students at East and South Jersey a platform to speak about issues that they are passionate about really broke me into [politics],” Yoon said, “Building the relationships with people who are so excited about everything they learn and do… I think it really motivated me to [pursue] [politics].”

This year, Yoon shared exciting news with her friends, family, and teachers: Yoon was accepted into the United States Senate Youth Program (USSYP), a highly selective and competitive program focused on growing the next batch of political leaders in the United States.

“It was so difficult for me to find anything politics-related because this field is not publicized enough [to] [young] [people],” said Yoon.

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USSYP offers students a chance to interact with Senators, Cabinet members, Supreme court Justices, and the President; the week-long experience is coupled with a $10,000 scholarship sponsored by the Hearst Foundation. Students hear major policy addresses, network, and experience a life in politics.

Yoon is one of two delegates accepted from New Jersey; Anika Dugal, a student at Old Bridge High in Middlesex County, will also travel to Washington with Yoon in March.

“The way I broke into the field was through connections with fellow activists and politically motivated individuals,” Yoon said, “Honestly, all the credit goes to LinkedIn… I connected with many people in the hope of getting somewhere.”

Yoon shares a quote that encompasses the crux of politics and political opportunities – “Discussion dilutes division.” – Yoon shares that speaking, discussing, and talking are ways people can find opportunities and create spaces for themselves, which ultimately can break down barriers. She adamantly emphasizes that if someone is interested in the field, there are people who will help and guide you, only that people have the confidence to seek these opportunities.

Yoon boasts impressive achievements and prior experience with public policy. At school, she is involved with Little Mentors; Outside, Yoon attended Henry Clay Student Congress and participates in various internships, fellowships, and experiences that enhance her political lexicon.

On a personal note, Yoon moved to the district at the beginning of her first year in high school; she shares that the cultural diversity at East has allowed her to feel comfortable in her Korean-American identity and gave her the confidence to pursue politics. In her previous school, being one of four Asian kids did a fair bit of damage to Yoon’s self-confidence when constantly made to feel different, but she remarks she wouldn’t change her experience for the world.

“Sometimes it is the little things like bringing cultural foods to school and no one saying it smells or rolling their eyes… It makes a difference,” said Yoon.

Yoon is still determining her direction in politics, but non-profit and NGO management remain a priority as she navigates her journey. Education activism is the niche Yoon developed for herself, hoping to play an important role in discussing education efficacy, developing alternative educational models, and celebrating multicultural educational approaches.

Discussion really does dilute division; Yoon smiles as she wraps up an answer and shares that “meeting all the friends – individuals who are equally motivated and ambitious changed [her] and taught [her] to advocate for things [she] [is] passionate about.”

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