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Valley Journals

Meet Kate De Groote: Awarded $10,000 scholarship at nation’s senate program

May 09, 2018 02:29PM ● By Travis Barton

West Valley City resident and Skyline High junior Kate De Groote toured many places during her weeklong trip to Washington, D.C. Kate was one of 104 student delegates selected across the country to attend the 56th annual United States Senate Youth Program. (Photo by Jakob Mosur)

By Travis Barton | travis@mycityjournals.com

Barbara De Groote remembers what her daughter Kate said after returning from the weeklong United States Senate Youth Program in Washington, D.C.: “That was the greatest week of my life." 

West Valley resident Barbara then recalled telling Kate, “‘Do you know how many times you have told me that with the experiences you’ve had? That’s a pretty good young life to have already told me that many times.’ She’s just had these experiences that have been fantastic in many different areas.” 

That’s because Kate is no ordinary teenager. A cursory Google search of the Skyline High junior reveals various news reports about her academic exploits: she was awarded the 2017 Billy Michal Student Leadership Award in New Orleans in June 2017; she collected and delivered 3,500 books to the Navajo and Hopi reservations in Arizona; she won the state’s National History Day competition for individual performance while at Churchill Jr. High before going on to nationals (also in Washington, D.C.); and is the vice mayor of the West Valley City Youth Council.

Washington, D.C.

Kate and James Madsen of Bountiful represented Utah at the 56th annual United States Senate Youth Program in Washington, D.C. in March. The two were chosen as top student leaders joining the other 102 student delegates from around the nation. They also received $10,000 scholarships. 

The weeklong program falls under Kate’s burgeoning category of life’s “greatest weeks.” 

“It’s almost impossible to put the experience and what I learned into words,” she said in an interview a few weeks after returning. She will have to. Each delegate is required to write an essay about the experience.

Days were “jam packed” for the delegates, Kate said. In no small order, the week included hearing from various senators such as Tim Scott (South Carolina) and Angus King (Maine), a national archivist, Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch, the Canadian Ambassador to the United States David MacNaughton and a 30-minute conversation with Utah’s Senator Mike Lee.

 She also visited the Pentagon, Arlington National Cemetery, the Newseum, the Capitol and the White House where she met President Donald Trump.

“It was just an amazing experience because we were able to go behind the scenes at so many places and really get to have a firsthand experience as to how government works and hear from these leaders that a lot of us look up to,” Kate said.

One of Kate’s more surreal moments was seeing top Somalian officials while staying at the Mayflower Hotel. They were there at the same time as the Somalian President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed.

“We’re staying in the same hotel as the president of a nation in the world — it was insane.”

The ultimate highlight of the program for Kate was hearing or meeting those leaders she looks up to. 

While touring the Senate Gallery, Kate said her group heard Senators Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren speak. “Kids started crying because we love politics so much and just being able to hear them give speeches was incredible,” Kate said.

She also got to shake hands with one of her heroes, Representative John Lewis (Georgia). Lewis is a prominent civil rights leader who helped organize the 1963 March on Washington and is known as one of the “Big Six” leaders of the civil rights movement.

Lewis told the delegates about his own experiences with being arrested dozens of times. “But he still persevered,” Kate said, “and fought for equality and the causes he believed in. That inspired all of us.”

Hearing the various political leaders explain why they chose their field, the causes they strive for and using their position to represent the underserved was not only memorable for Kate, but also motivating. 

“I think that made everyone in the room more passionate about pursuing political service or just working to help others,” she said. It turned out to be her primary lesson.

“We need to be passionate about something, and we need to take that passion and pursue it until we can't pursue it anymore,” she said. “Because even though we’re young, we’ve seen time and time again that we can change the world, whether it’s locally or nationally. We can make a difference.”

Civic service

Participating in a program where Kate can meet the nation’s leaders is possible because of who she is and what she’s done.

While some students in her high school head to Paris for their spring break vacation, in 2017 Kate utilized that time to deliver 3,500 books to schools on Navajo and Hopi reservations in Arizona. In May, she travels to the Dominican Republic for a humanitarian mission.

The Skyline junior, who also serves as vice mayor for the West Valley Youth City Council, served as an ambassador for the World War II Museum in New Orleans, Louisiana during 2017 where she interviewed veterans to preserve their stories.

Kate, a history buff, said it made the war more than “what you read in history books.”

“It affected these people in such profound ways, an event in which they learned so many truths,” she said. “Even hearing about the horrors many of them had to experience, it definitely put my own life into perspective." 

“And I realize how much these veterans had to go through and how much they’re impacted by it today. There were many people who couldn’t really talk about it.”

History

Where does this unyielding desire for civic service come from? For Kate, it’s all about history.

In elementary school she was “obsessed” with the Revolutionary War before her fascination with World War II. She saw “how politics influenced all of that history.”

“I realized that politics and being elected or working behind the scenes is a way you can make a real difference in this nation,” Kate said.

Third grade proved a formative year for Kate. She attended a summer camp about the Mayflower ship that transported early pilgrims to what would become the United States. Her parents took her to Boston where she saw the Freedom Trail, the site of the Boston Massacre and a replica of the Mayflower. The year also marked her first recollection of a presidential inauguration when Barack Obama was first elected.

“We tried to take her to as many museums as we could,” Barbara said of Kate’s upbringing. “Get (her) involved in as many different programs as we could because she had this insatiable desire to learn about different things.”

Kate took first place at the state’s National History Day competition in 2016 for her individual performance on Joan of Arc’s journey.

Another historical exploit includes learning about the Berlin Wall and the relationship between East and West Germany. In seventh grade, Kate carted out a six-foot-tall replica of the Berlin Wall to a history fair. It imitated the barbed wire at the top, search lights, concrete — she even spray painted words on the wall. 

“It was awesome,” Kate recalled fondly.

Future

If curiosity constituted a life’s calling, it would be Kate’s. She has an insatiable appetite to learn everything. Barbara noted how she has a authentic interest about the world and all its people.

Whether it’s religions, traditions, cuisine or personal values different from the American norm, Kate wants to absorb all of it.

“That’s something I’m very passionate about,” Kate said. “And seeing why people do (those things) and how that’s impacted their own lives. That’s something that I think is extremely interesting…engaging in cross-cultural dialogue is something I really enjoy doing.” 

Kate is in the International Baccalaureate program at Skyline. With its seemingly endless amounts of homework, Kate doesn’t have much free time. She loves to sew and wants to learn more about it. Reading is her favorite, especially “The Great Gatsby,” “To Kill a Mockingbird” and “The New Jim Crow.” But she typically uses her free time for her projects, volunteering at the refugee center, doing a study abroad in Spain (summer 2017) or applying for Chinese programs for this summer.

She’s often asked about her future. Her dream schools are Harvard and Yale; she wants to study political science or economics. Then work for the government overseas or in the State Department, maybe serve as an adviser for political campaigns.

Regardless of what she does, the world might not hold enough information for her to absorb.

“The world has endless opportunities for me in the future,” she said. “I’ll figure out when I get there, I just know I want to be in a position to help make the world a better place, more connected and more friendly with each other.”