From left, Beth Lambert, director of innovative teaching and learning, Maine Department of Education; Natalie Emmerson; and Charles Mahaleris, staff assistant to U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, pose for a photo Thursday after announcing Emmerson’s acceptance into the prestigious U.S. Senate Youth Program during a gathering in Brunswick. Photo contributed by Leslie Trundy.

Morse High School senior Natalie Emmerson was taken aback Thursday morning when she walked into an assembly of classmates, teachers and political leaders who gathered to help celebrate her acceptance into the prestigious United States Senate Youth Program.

Established in 1962, the extremely competitive program was developed to “provide a unique educational experience for outstanding high school students interested in pursuing careers in public service,” according to the USSYP website.

Each year, two students from each state — matching the number of senators — are invited to participate in a weeklong study of the federal government in Washington, D.C. There, the student delegates attend online meetings and briefings with senators, a Supreme Court justice, leaders of cabinet agencies and President Joe Biden. In addition to the trip, each student will receive a $10,000 scholarship for their undergraduate studies, according to a news release.

Emmerson said she had no idea she’d been picked for the program until the big reveal at Thursday’s assembly. “It was a surprise. I’m very excited. I love government and public service, and it’s what I want to do,” Emmerson said in a phone interview Thursday morning.

High School Principal Eric Varney said Emmerson received a standing ovation from her peers at the assembly. “It’s a really big deal. She is well deserving and a really hard worker.”

With a long list of achievements, Emmerson serves as chairperson for the School Community Liason Council; is captain of her swim team, co-founder of the Women’s Empowerment Club, and a member of the National Honor Society; has attended Dirigo State and the Cohen Leadership Institute; and is an AP scholar.


Emmerson is the second Morse High School student selected for the Senate Youth Program. The first was Lon Povich, from the class of 1977, who became a lawyer after his studies at Dartmouth and Harvard Law.

School counselor Leslie Trundy said she encouraged Emmerson to apply to the program because “she has consistently demonstrated excellence in leadership, civic-mindedness, and a dedication to learning. She is an outstanding scholar and athlete and co-founded the Women’s Empowerment Club at Morse.”

“As a young American, I have been shaped by a lot of the recent political events, and that has motivated me to become more involved over the years,” Emmerson said.

Emmerson said listening to the speeches of actress and activist Emma Watson — best known for her role as Hermione Granger in the “Harry Potter” films — pushed her to develop the Women’s Empowerment Club at Morse several years ago.  An avid reader, Emmerson said she finds hope for democracy and politics through the words of Michelle Obama in her best-seller memoir, “Becoming.”

Emmerson plans to study political science and international relations at college next year. Not yet sure which school she’ll attend, Emmerson said she’s hoping for early acceptance to Williams College.

“I think we have more of a voice than we realize, with what we have to say and what we have to contribute,” Emmerson said. “One of the most important things is being open-minded. With an open mind, you can work together with other people.”

Emmerson plans to be in Washington from March 4 to 11.

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