South Carolina HS students selected for United States Senate Youth Program

February 8, 2024

State Superintendent of Education Ellen Weaver announced two South Carolina high school students have been selected as delegates to the 62nd annual United States Senate Youth Program (USSYP).

Each delegate will head to Washington D.C. to represent South Carolina during USSYP’s Washington Week to be held in March. These students will also receive a $10,000 undergraduate college scholarship.

The delegates selected to represent South Carolina are Austin Rios from Lexington High School in Lexington County School District One and Peyton White from Travelers Rest High School in Greenville County Schools.

“I want to congratulate Austin and Peyton for earning this prestigious opportunity,” said State Superintendent Ellen Weaver. “Both students have worked hard to get here and will represent South Carolina well. I am looking forward to what the future has in store for these two bright, young leaders.

Each year this extremely competitive merit-based program brings 104 of the most outstanding high school students—two from each state, the District of Columbia, and the Department of Defense Education Activity—to Washington, D.C., for an intensive weeklong study of the federal government. Student delegates will hear major policy addresses by senators, cabinet members, officials from the Departments of State and Defense and directors of other federal agencies, as well as participate in meetings with the president and a justice of the U.S. Supreme Court. In addition to the student delegates attending Washington Week, the Hearst Foundation will provide each of the 104 student delegates with a $10,000 undergraduate college scholarship with encouragement to continue their educational coursework in government, history, and public affairs.

Austin Rios, a senior at Lexington High School, serves as a representative for the senior class. He is an effective communicator. After creating the broadcast liaison position within his school’s Student Council, the school has seen an increase in student participation at school events. Consistently demonstrating academic achievement, he is currently ranked second in his class of 534 and among other academic accolades, has been recognized by the College Board as a National Hispanic Recognition Program Scholar and an AP Scholar with Distinction, received a Gold South Carolina Seal of Biliteracy in Spanish, has been commended as a Daughters of the American Revolution Good Citizen, and is a National Merit Scholarship semifinalist. Austin believes that anyone can lead for the better and maintains his core value to do good for those around him. His involvement with Hugh O’Brian Youth Leadership of South Carolina (HOBY SC) and Lexington County Public Library have earned him accolades for his leadership and work ethic. Having applied to several top colleges, he aims to become an educator.

“Austin is just a delight, showing genuine concern for others with a glorious smile that can brighten your day,” said Dr. Ann O’Cain interim principal at Lexington High School. “A College Board National Merit Finalist, Austin has a brilliant mind with a passion for service, education, and leadership. He is thrilled to be chosen as a USSYP delegate because of his interest in government outside the classroom and community.”

Peyton White, a junior at Travelers Rest High School, serves as the secretary of the junior class. He aspires to make a genuine impact on the world through his leadership approach in addressing systemic issues, enabling others, and uplifting those around him. Besides reforming his school’s Student Council election process and partnering with several other groups within his school to raise money for local charities, he is in the International Baccalaureate program at his high school, serving in many organizations, such as History Club, Youth in Government, Future Medical Leaders, Spanish Honor Society, and BETA Club, receiving many awards, including the Hugh O’Brian Award. He is a varsity athlete in cross country and track and on the all-county team in South Carolina. A believer in unity, Peyton feels a deeper understanding of the world will help solve problems. One way he is working to achieve this is through the upcoming creation of PLAN (formerly PLINGO), a nonprofit organization dedicated to providing a comprehensive array of services, which includes encompassed translation assistance, financial support for language education, and personalized tutoring in foreign and native languages. Peyton has enlisted current and former teachers and friends to aid his linguistic initiative. Yale University is his first choice for college, where he plans to study to become a lawyer or a diplomat.

“Congratulations to Travelers Rest High junior Peyton White on being announced for the prestigious award as a U.S. Senate Youth Program Delegate,” said Dan Bruce, principal at Travelers Rest High School. “Peyton’s dedication and hard work have paid off, showcasing his talent and commitment to excellence. He epitomizes what it means to be a Devildog!”

The USSYP was created by Senate Resolution 324 in 1962 and has been sponsored by the U.S. Senate and fully funded by the Hearst Foundation since its inception. The program was established “to increase young Americans’ understanding of the interrelationships of the three branches of government, the caliber and responsibilities of federally elected and appointed officials, and the vital importance of democratic decision making not only for America, but for people around the world.”

Click here for more information on the United States Senate Youth Program.