Big Island senior awarded $10,000 scholarship selected as Hawai‘i student delegate for U.S. Youth Senate Program

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At 2 years old, Lehua Norris could name the current U.S. president, vice president, Speaker of the House and news commenters she watched with her dad on Fox, CNN, MSNBC and NBC.

At 4 years and 2 months, Lehua’s dad, James, recalled seeing his daughter sitting on the couch looking at a book — and realized she was reading. By kindergarten, she was reading at a third-grade level.

By third grade, James Norris said he got a call from the school librarian that Lehua, now reading at a ninth-grade level, was checking out books that were not “age-appropriate.”

“They were teenage romance books,” Norris’ dad said with a laugh.

Lehua Norris

Lehua Norris, now a 17-year-old senior at Konawaena High School, was elected from among the state’s top student leaders to participate in the annual United States Senate Youth Program.

She and O‘ahu teen Ahryanna Patricia McGuirk will be among the 104 members of the national student delegation. They will join senators Brian Schatz and Mazie K. Hirono in representing Hawaiʻi during the program’s 62nd annual Washington Week from March 2 to 9.


Each delegate will receive a $10,000 college scholarship for undergraduate study.

The Senate Youth Program is a competitive, merit-based program that provides the most outstanding high school students — two from each state, the District of Columbia and the Department of Defense Education Activity — with an intensive week-long study of the federal government and its leaders.

The program’s overall mission is to help instill within each class of student delegates more profound knowledge of the American political process and a lifelong commitment to public service.

Norris is looking forward to meeting members of the U.S. Supreme Court to ask them about their recent decision that severely limits, if not effectively ends, the use of affirmative action in college admissions.

As an ethnic minority of Filipino and American descent, Norris said she hopes to discuss with the current leadership how they can continue to support marginalized communities amid this historic vote.


Norris currently serves as secretary on the Hawai‘i State Student Council. As she’s worked with fellow high school students, she hopes to provide more educational opportunities for students on the Big Island.

“I understand we have a teacher shortage and opportunities are limited,” she said, adding there are funding resources out there that aren’t reaching the students.

“You really have to try and pry your foot into the doorway,” Norris said. “There needs to be a better way of announcing these sorts of opportunities.”

At the age of 15, Norris was also an intern for Hawai‘i Island Rep. Jeanné Kapela.

Kapela said Norris became her intern after she was accepted into the Keiki Caucus program last year. The representative describes her as confident and knowing what she wants.


Kapela worked with her on bringing speakers to Konawaena High School to build legislative knowledge, teaching students how government works. The teen has set up the program and she is waiting for the school to implement it.

“I ran for office so young women could see other brown women in power,” the lawmaker said. “Hopefully she will take my seat someday.”

Norris could’ve started college last year at just 16 but decided to wait and graduate with her friends. She has her eyes set on prestigious universities Duke or Brown to study political science and corporate and constitutional law. She hopes to become a lawyer and someday a politician.

“I hope eventually after I sit in my career for a few years to come back here (to Hawai‘i) and serve,” she said.

Norris is in awe of her daughter. Not only is she engaged on a state level, he said, but she also has time for learning instruments, and dancing hula where she’s performed in the Merrie Monarch Hula Competition twice and participated in a nationwide constitutional speech competition.

“I’ve told her she could be a writer or an artist, she doesn’t even have to be a lawyer,” Norris said. “I’m the proudest dad in Hawai‘i.”

The Senate Youth Program was created by Senate Resolution 324 in 1962. Since its inception it has been sponsored by the Senate and fully funded by The Hearst Foundations.

The impetus for the program as stated in Senate testimony is “to increase young Americans’ understanding of the interrelationships of the three branches of government, learn the caliber and responsibilities of federally elected and appointed officials, and emphasize the vital importance of democratic decision making not only for America but for people around the world.”

Tiffany DeMasters
Tiffany DeMasters is a full-time reporter for Pacific Media Group. Tiffany worked as the cops and courts reporter for West Hawaii Today from 2017 to 2019. She also contributed stories to Ke Ola Magazine and Honolulu Civil Beat.

Tiffany can be reached at [email protected].
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