Maja Durkovic was in middle school when Donald J. Trump won the U.S. presidential election despite losing the popular vote. It was the first year where she could use social media and political opinions flooded her timeline.
“My interest in politics and government really came from the fact that I was just an observer to, like, the chaos that happened,” said Durkovic, now a senior at Eastern Technical High School in Essex.
The fallout made her want to take action. Now, after years in student government, the 17-year-old has been given an honor that only one other person in the state was granted.
She was selected for the United States Senate Youth Program, through which she and Severna Park Senior High School student Zachary McGrath will spend a week in Washington, D.C., next month with U.S. Sens. Ben Cardin and Chris Van Hollen. They and the 102 other students in the program will also talk with Vice President Kamala Harris, take a picture with president Joe Biden, hear from a U.S. Supreme Court justice, and receive a $10,000 college scholarship.
Some of the program’s famous alumni include Senator Susan Collins in 1971, U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg in 2000 and former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie from the 1980 cohort.
Only two people from each state, as well as D.C. and the Department of Defense Education Activity (a federal school system for military families), are selected. The program looks for “the most outstanding high school students,” according to the news release, and aims to instill “more profound knowledge of the American political process and a lifelong commitment to public service.”
Durkovic, who plans to study public policy in college and go to law school, is the president of the Maryland Association of Student Councils.
“You get to vote on stuff that’s real,” she said. For example, council members voted on their stances on different state bills, like the education reform legislation, the Blueprint for Maryland’s Future, before it became law. Some even testified in favor of the Blueprint in Annapolis.
Durkovic is in the law and public policy magnet program at Eastern Tech, where she founded a chapter of High School Democrats of America. She also served in leadership roles for Baltimore County Student Councils.
Jayme Harget, Durkovic’s law teacher at Eastern Tech, described Durkovic as curious, passionate about learning and an “agent of change.”
“She doesn’t want to just learn, she wants to do,” Harget said. “She sees how people can have a positive impact on the world and she embodies that.”
Durkovic initially hesitated to apply for the senate youth program because the odds of being selected were so low. She told herself she wasn’t interested, that her schedule was too full or her energy was too low to take on something else. But her parents and teacher encouraged her to apply. Her principal even gave her a free period to complete the lengthy application that included recording a video explaining why she supports a state bill that would require English classes to diversify authors assigned to students.
In early December, she received a congratulatory message confirming she’d been selected, which led to her and a friend screaming in the school hallway right before her forensics test. Her teacher excused her from the exam because she was so excited.
The news wasn’t a shock to her mother, Stacey Durkovic, knowing how hard her daughter works and how good of a leader she is.
“She really has an ability to see the big picture, but can also break down that big picture into manageable tasks,” her mom said. “And she’s really good at delegation. You can’t be a good leader if you do it yourself.”