Listen: 15-year-old meets the president

As part of MPR's Youth Radio Series, Youth Radio reporter Iman Fears shares her experience in U.S. Senate Youth Program, which leads to meeting officials in Washington D.C., including Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar, and President Barack Obama.

Report is second in the six-part award winning material within Youth Radio series.

Click links below for other reports:

part 1:

part 3:

part 4:

part 5:

part 6:


2011 Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism, first place in Audio category


text | pdf |

IMAN FEARS: My life is doing plays. I never really saw myself in politics. I flew to Washington and I didn't quite know what to expect. The Youth Senate Program is a competitive scholarship program. The 104 delegates selected were a very smart and driven group. Their passionate political debate began as soon as we got to the hotel and lasted all week long. I felt a bit out of place, as if I was the only kid there who hadn't dreamed of becoming a senator since the age of five.

But I was still very excited. President Obama was on the itinerary. With a big showdown on health care reform going on, we weren't 100% sure that he'd have time to show up. But he was all we could talk about. Right now, I am with the delegates from Wisconsin. And what are you most looking forward to about the trip.

SPEAKER 1: Probably meeting the president.

IMAN FEARS: Yeah, definitely.


I was dazzled by the splendor of the Mayflower Hotel where they put us up. The grand ballroom where we took our meals had about 18 chandeliers. We would sightsee and get inside access to the Pentagon, the State Department, the Supreme Court, the Capitol, and finally, the White House. Day 1 of the US Senate Youth Program is finally over. It was a wonderful, wonderful, but super, super busy day. Probably the coolest part of this trip is, like, the VIP treatment that we get.

So we'll be, like, walking into a major building and it'll be, like, 104 of us all in our business casual attire. We'll have people around us that say, why can't we go into the building 2 with them? And the building staff will be like, oh, well, this is the US Senate Youth Program and they are in a very tight schedule and we have to move them along. And I feel kind of bad, but at the same time, we get to tour the White House.

I'm really, really excited. I've never been inside. I think normal people were allowed inside, but I guess we're not normal people. One of the names I was most excited to see on our agenda was Sonia Sotomayor, the newest Supreme Court justice. It's March 9, 2010. We got to meet Justice Sonia Sotomayor. The first thing I noticed about her was this huge smile on her face and how casual and laid back she was. She walks in and she's kind of shorter and we're all standing up.

And she just goes, hey, guys. And she has us all sit down with this huge smile on her face. And she walks down the aisle to see all of our faces. And she said that she was, quote, "so proud of us" and that she wouldn't have had the chance to do this in high school. One of the delegates asked her how she felt about how being a minority was a really big barrier to her. And she said that she never thought she was a minority until she got to high school.

Sotomayor once said that while she was a student at Princeton university, there were so few people of color that she felt like an alien. I really identified with that. When I was younger, I had a tough time socially because I was always the only Black kid in my class and also the youngest because I skipped a grade in elementary school. Now that I'm a teenager, I feel as if I have to overcome a whole new set of assumptions, like, because I'm a Black woman, I'll be loud or a bad student.

Seeing a woman of color like Sotomayor overcome the stereotypes inspires me. There was a reception later so that we could meet our senators. I got to interview Amy Klobuchar. I asked her what it takes to make a career in public service a reality. She told me perseverance.

AMY KLOBUCHAR: I always tell people my first job in politics was doing the inventory for Vice President Mondale's-- all the furniture of his office staff, which meant crawling under the desks and writing down the serial numbers. I did that for three weeks when he was the vice president and I was an intern. And my next job was as a US Senator in Washington. So it turned out pretty well.


IMAN FEARS: Who else got to meet their senators?

SPEAKER 2: I did.

SPEAKER 3: I did.

SPEAKER 2: I met both of them.

SPEAKER 4: Hi, Senator. Senator Schumer and Senator Gillibrand did not show up. Just putting that out there.

SPEAKER 5: Ooh, why?

SPEAKER 4: Sandra Boxer and Feinstein, we don't even watch you guys anyways.

SPEAKER 5: They both signed my cast. I'm very happy.

IMAN FEARS: I met Senator Al Franken at the reception, but he had to run off, so I had to interview him by phone later. I asked him how I could balance my new interest in politics with my love of the performing arts.

AL FRANKEN (ON PHONE): You can actually combine those. I don't know if you've ever watched politicians, but some of them combine the performing arts with their politics. [CHUCKLES] But on the serious side, they really aren't mutually exclusive.

IMAN FEARS: Well, thank you so much, Senator, for your time. And may I say that you're really an inspiration. Thank you so much for the advice.

AL FRANKEN (ON PHONE): Oh, well, that's really kind. Keep that part, you're an inspiration in the radio thing, OK?

IMAN FEARS: All right. Well, thank you very much. Have a good evening.

AL FRANKEN (ON PHONE): Do you promised me on that?

IMAN FEARS: I promise.



IMAN FEARS: It's more than halfway through the week. I don't want this week ever to end. I got the chance to meet 103 of the smartest and most talented, but also the most fun kids I'd ever meet and form friendships I hope will last a lifetime. That night, we had a dance party at the hotel until midnight, which would have made us sleepy the next morning, but we were too excited for the next speaker on our agenda.

We just met President Barack Obama. It was probably the most amazing experience I'd ever had, the most amazing experience anyone had ever had. We were escorted into the White House, and we saw him way at the end of a hallway just like a silhouette. And I couldn't tell if it was him, but I saw this really tall guy with big ears, and I was like, oh, my gosh. And we all shrieked. And the entire-- everyone in the entire audience just kind of shrieked a little bit. And then we all, like, frantically tried to regain composure.

Then Barack Obama entered the room flanked by all these Secret Service agents. But he was in the room. He looked just like he did on TV. That was our first observation. And I was sitting in the front row, so it was literally three feet away from me. And he looked at us and said, my, you all are a better looking bunch than the real Senate. [CHUCKLES SOFTLY] One girl asked him what the biggest piece of advice he would give to us would be. He responded, advice to become president? Well, um, be careful what you wish for. [CHUCKLES SOFTLY]

The most memorable thing he told us was, don't spend your time thinking about what you want to be. Think about what you want to do. So I realized at that point that I'd been spending this entire trip thinking about what I want to be when I'm older, what I want to be. But what's really important is that I'm driven to do things, not just be something that sounds good.

I'm back from Washington. It's difficult to adjust to real life after the fairytale of Washington week. Do I know for sure what I want to do now? No, but I do know that seeing Justice Sotomayor and President Obama make it in Washington shows me that as a young woman of color, I may have a future there. From Minnesota Public Radio News, I'm Iman Fears.


Materials created/edited/published by Archive team as an assigned project during remote work period and in office during fiscal 2021-2022 period.

This Story Appears in the Following Collections

Views and opinions expressed in the content do not represent the opinions of APMG. APMG is not responsible for objectionable content and language represented on the site. Please use the "Contact Us" button if you'd like to report a piece of content. Thank you.

Transcriptions provided are machine generated, and while APMG makes the best effort for accuracy, mistakes will happen. Please excuse these errors and use the "Contact Us" button if you'd like to report an error. Thank you.

< path d="M23.5-64c0 0.1 0 0.1 0 0.2 -0.1 0.1-0.1 0.1-0.2 0.1 -0.1 0.1-0.1 0.3-0.1 0.4 -0.2 0.1 0 0.2 0 0.3 0 0 0 0.1 0 0.2 0 0.1 0 0.3 0.1 0.4 0.1 0.2 0.3 0.4 0.4 0.5 0.2 0.1 0.4 0.6 0.6 0.6 0.2 0 0.4-0.1 0.5-0.1 0.2 0 0.4 0 0.6-0.1 0.2-0.1 0.1-0.3 0.3-0.5 0.1-0.1 0.3 0 0.4-0.1 0.2-0.1 0.3-0.3 0.4-0.5 0-0.1 0-0.1 0-0.2 0-0.1 0.1-0.2 0.1-0.3 0-0.1-0.1-0.1-0.1-0.2 0-0.1 0-0.2 0-0.3 0-0.2 0-0.4-0.1-0.5 -0.4-0.7-1.2-0.9-2-0.8 -0.2 0-0.3 0.1-0.4 0.2 -0.2 0.1-0.1 0.2-0.3 0.2 -0.1 0-0.2 0.1-0.2 0.2C23.5-64 23.5-64.1 23.5-64 23.5-64 23.5-64 23.5-64"/>