Northstar: May


                            NorthStar: May

                       Northern California, JSA


May Your Summer be wonderful

Photo Source: Google Images

Photo Source: Google Images


Wow, what a year! So many conventions, debates, thought talks, plans! But the time has come to say good bye to the NorCal JSA 2016-17 year and wish the graduating statesmen good luck on their endeavors! In this issue, you will get to learn where some high school JSA seniors are heading off to and what next year’s elected officials are planning for the future! The NorthStar team  thanks you for your readership and wishes you a lovely summer! Until next time!

“There are no great limits to growth because there are no limits of human intelligence, imagination, and wonder.” ~ Ronald Reagan



Kevin Zamzow-Pollock
  1. Know what you want:

     a. It’s great if you know what you want to study. That doesn’t mean go straight to the list of, say, the best biology programs in the country. Just keep your interests in mind as you look at schools. Often it’s not the quality of the program, but the culture of the program that matters. Figure out whether you like the culture – it will define almost everything you do at college

    b. Also know what kind of school you want. Do you want a large, public research university or do you want a world-renowned ivy league or do you want a small, liberal arts college or do you want a school that’s only known for it’s basketball team. How close to home do you want to be? Do you want an urban or suburban setting? Do you want a walking campus or a biking campus or a driving campus? Do you like the campus aesthetic? These things are more important than you might realize, because you aren’t just choosing a major, you’re choosing a home for four years. Figure out what’s make or break, perhaps make a list of characteristics that you’re looking for.

2. Visit colleges – any colleges! Big colleges, small colleges, urban colleges, residential campuses, liberal arts schools, research universities. It doesn’t matter if you want to go to them (though it is a good idea to visit as many of the schools that interest you as possible). Aim to experience a diversity of schools in order to figure out what you want. Note the elements that resonate with you. Even if you just walk around the campus, try to imagine yourself at a school. Official visiting days can offer great opportunities for getting to know a college, but don’t forget that they’re trying to sell the school to you – try going on a normal day, or if you do go on an Open House day, try to get away from the official program and discover what the university is like to those who live and study there. Side note: sitting in on classes is a really great way to get a taste of the college experience – they will be fairly similar from school to school (no matter how much colleges try to convince you that their teaching style is unique), but are nevertheless quite valuable. Another side note: try visiting without your parents if you’re worried their opinions will bias you – your parents do have a say (especially if they’re paying), but it’s ultimately your decision.

3. Some of the best college counseling advice I got wasn’t from my college counselor, but from an admissions rep at Portland University (a school I should note I had little interest in before visiting and even less after visiting – though it’s a lovely school). And one of the things he said was: “People will tell you that cost doesn’t matter. That’s wrong. Of course cost matters. Just don’t make it the most important thing”. Considering things like in-state vs. out-of-state tuition is vital to your search process, but should occur later on, after you know what you want and are just figuring out how to get it.

4. Take advantage of opportunities to talk to people at colleges – not just the official admissions reps, but the advisors and deans and professors with whom you might well be interacting on a day-to-day basis. You will often find that they are very willing to talk to a prospective student (if they aren’t, perhaps this isn’t the right school for you). When you visit, don’t be afraid to set up meetings with advisors (if that is appropriate at that particular school) or knock on doors and talk to people. And if you can’t visit a school, email them and be sure to work at first with your college counselor or an experienced student to make sure you have the email set up right.

5. Make sure your parents stay out your decision making. Both of my parents thought that Berkeley would be a good fit for me, but they stayed quiet. Guess what, I chose Berkeley – on my own. It was my decision, one that I could own, but I knew that they would support me whatever I chose to do (though perhaps forcing me to answer some hard questions about money).

6. Lastly, stop over-analyzing things. At a certain point, more research, more numbers, more visits don’t do anything. Trust your gut. But first reconcile yourself to the fact that you will do well and have a great college experience at any one of your final choices. Don’t convince yourself that there is one dream school for you – there’s not. The entire concept of making the “right choice” is flawed – you make a choice, and in most cases it works out well. So stop thinking of it as right and wrong – it’s much more like different types of right 🙂


“Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak; courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen.”  ~ Winston Churchill

Four Years of Nostalgia, Struggle, and Devotion or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Stress

Photos and Article by Jesse Kireyev

I spent the last month interviewing six high school seniors in JSA. These were people who spent years of their life devoted to this organization, and my goal was to portray their honest thoughts on their time spent in JSA; their devotion, what they loved, what they hated, and most importantly, what they took away from this experience. They all worked tirelessly, whether in Senate, in Cabinet, or in the Big Three, both in their chapters and in the organization as a whole, to make it what it was, and this is their chance to recall what it was like.


These interviews have been edited slightly, for clarification, brevity, and grammatical correctness, but they are presented as accurately as possible.




Marianna Scott


Marianna Scott served as the Director of Debate from 2016 to 2017. She is a senior at Alameda High. Despite having only been to one JSA convention before joining cabinet, she managed to lead the Debate team and help run debate in JSA. She will be attending Brown University in the fall.


Kevin Zamzow-Pollock


Kevin is a freshman at UC Berkeley. A graduate of York School in Monterey, he served as Co-Director of Debate for NorCal JSA in his senior year. You can still catch him attending conventions, helping out cabinet, and being a general all around do-gooder in JSA.


Kiran Prasad


Kiran Prasad is the Governor of NorCal JSA. Despite being the only member of his chapter at Northgate High School, his dedication to JSA goes nearly unmatched. He will be attending the University of California, Santa Cruz this coming fall.


Abe Jellinek


As this year’s NorCal Director of Technology, Abe revolutionized JSA’s best speaker voting system, helped set up the website, and ran voting for Spring State. Despite living a mere two hour drive away from Burlingame, Abe notably never managed to be able to make it to the weekly meetings on Tuesday evenings. He will be attending the University of California, Berkeley in the fall.


Skylar Thoma



If bread is a staple of the American diet, Skylar is the bread of JSA. He can be seen everywhere during conventions, doing last minute debates, running conventions, making new friends, and annoying people with the lack of an ‘S’ at the end of his last name. He will be attending Swarthmore College in the fall.


Kyle Alves

Photo Source: Facebook

Photo Source: Facebook

Having served as a Senator for the East Bay Region, Kyle dedicated countless hours of his life to serving NorCal. His trademark extreme happiness permeates throughout JSA and infects everybody he meets. He will be attending the University of California, Los Angeles, in the fall.





Question: What is your philosophy in life? What is a piece of advice general life advice you would give to somebody?


Kyle: What I express to a lot of people is, it’s never the good option to dwell on what makes you unhappy. It’s good to look back on it and learn from it, of course we make mistakes. That’s the way life goes, and however corny that sounds, a lot of it is true. Whenever I am talking with people, they’re always like: “why are you always so happy and positive?” And it’s just, you don’t dwell on the stuff that makes you unhappy. You learn from it and you grow, that’s pretty much it.


Abe: Stay in school, don’t do drugs, don’t be a dropout. If you try something, and it doesn’t work out it happens, but you shouldn’t stop trying because, especially if you’re someone in JSA, you know what it means to try and try again. I ran for senator in JSA and I lost so badly. […] My god did I lose. Just incredible levels of loss. I think that was my junior year, and I didn’t really mind because the people who won were half cool and also I just joined cabinet the coming year and it was really great. I found another path to becoming more involved in JSA, so that’s what I would suggest, if one path to doing things doesn’t work out, don’t like bang you head against it over and over and over again hoping that the door will open, because its probably sealed shut and you’ll give yourself a traumatic brain injury, so I would suggest finding a different door that is open.


Marianna: Find things that you really like to do and do those things.


Skylar: I would say one big thing I try and usually fail to deal with is procrastination, because everybody’s going on their own path in life, so I feel like the biggest overarching thing is people’s work ethic and that could be like for teaching, that could be for like doing some accounting, but everybody’s gotta be able to have some work ethic to do whatever they want to do.


Kevin: I think always a good one is take advantage of the opportunities available to you, but don’t feel like you have to get involved with something, my first semester here I wasn’t super involved but I worked hard at the stuff I was involved in and I ended up really putting in quality over quantity, and I find myself doing all sorts of things second semester, so don’t shy away from opportunities that present themselves but don’t feel obligated to get involved if you don’t feel ready


Question: Was it ever hard to follow that advice in JSA? Did you ever have a moment when you just felt it was too difficult to keep to that ideal?


Kyle: A lot of my first year in JSA was a lot of looking in the back, I joined in sophomore year, and especially everyone in the Alameda High chapter, everyone was really outspoken, whenever they would debate, I never really wanted to join. I was always noticing that about myself, and I was like, “come on, it shouldn’t be that hard, you can talk.” It was definitely hard in the early years, just because I think we have learned as a chapter to be a lot more inclusive but back then it was like, you have to take the initiative, you have to do it yourself, but I just couldn’t. This is one of those corny JSA stories, but my first one day, I was going against Kiran Prasad. I was playing devil’s advocate against the environment, and my points we kind of bad, Kiran destroyed me obviously. But the moment after that, everyone came over to me and congratulated me and they were like, “You did great.” That’s what got me to speak in my first convention, but in my first year I was like, “this kind of sucks, I don’t know how to speak.”


Abe: I wanted to work with more states to expand my best speaker voting system. In general JSA officials don’t like change because not changing is easier, they’re sorta like elderly republican politicians in that way, and so it didn’t work out for all the states, for most of the states in fact, but for the ones it did work out for , it worked out well enough that I think it made up for that loss.


Kiran: At the beginning of your term, I feel that’s where it’s the most daunting, it’s such a large task to approach—y’know where do I begin, where do I start, which department do I get involved in first, how do I want to run this, how should we do this, how should we plan this, who should we invite, so on and so forth. So in that kind of sense, that’s probably the hardest place to plan for the future.


Marianna: Yes, it was hard.


Skylar: Probably during last minute campaign stuff, so like the two times I ran for senate, I was only getting my campaign materials together like the Wednesday or Thursday before we did Spring State. Did that play a role in me losing? Probably not, but it’s still a good thing to focus on.


Kevin: Well I very nearly did not apply to cabinet, and considering I was practically guaranteed the position, the risks were minimal and I almost didn’t take it, and I was just thinking today it would’ve been a big mistake if I hadn’t. […] In general I didn’t know if I wanted to take on the commitment, and I’m so glad I did because it has influenced all sorts of things I have done since then in addition to being a great topic for application essays.


Question: How do you think your time in JSA has affected you? Will it continue to affect you in the future? Would you be the same person now if it wasn’t for JSA?


Kyle: My career that I’m thinking of going into college with (It could change at any moment) has a lot to do with science, the environment, protecting it and learning about the issues that are facing it. But the current climate around science has become more and more partisan, science shouldn’t be subjective and according to party view. I think going into the future it’s going to be more and more important for scientists to be outspoken, and advocate their ideas, tell the people when they’re wrong because people follow their emotion rather than facts. I’ve gone to every convention and every environmental debate, and seeing all sides, people are bringing up points that I had no idea even existed. I went to the last two debates, one about carbon tax and one about eating meat at the last Spring State, and I learned a lot more from half an hour of debate than I would have from an hour of research online. I know I’m gonna take that advocation into the future, and I know I’ll be able to present my idea and articulate it in a way that is both persuasive.


Abe: Well besides a really cool t-shirt which is relatively minor, JSA has given me a huge amount of leadership experience. When I joined JSA I didn’t wanna talk to people, and now I don’t but at the same time I’m willing to talk to like large crowds of people. […] I got leadership experiences, that’s the obvious one. I also got experience working with other people who were much more competent than I am. […] Through JSA I got involved with this group of people who were so motivated and so excited to do stuff for this organization that they love so much, and so I think that was very valuable and its going to be helpful to me unless I go work for a company where everyone hates their lives. Also JSA gave me like 6 gavels which I can’t complain about.


Kiran: I would say the skills JSA provides you, and the people you get to know through JSA, for example public speaking skills, being able to speak in front of an audience of hundreds of people, being able to be open enough to greet someone and understand what their perspective on a certain topic is, that sort of political conversation’s really escaping the political atmosphere today. […] The people that I know through JSA are some of the best people that I know, they’re funny, they state their point, and sometimes they speak in such a manner that you step back and you look at them and you think “wow, were just high schoolers!” Adults have been telling us our entire lives, “children are this way, teenagers are this way, they’re bad they do these things,” and you hear these people speaking at these conferences, whether it be other Governors, whether it be Directors, whether it be other delegates. You realize “oh that person, this is their first convention and they’re already speaking so intelligently!”


Marianna: I would probably be who I was yes. JSA has given me some improved dance moves thanks to Emme Silverman. I’ve learned how to operate in a corporate structure and I’ve learned that I really dislike doing so.


Skylar: I would say the biggest thing would probably be for like, in terms of like being able to like see what conferences calls are like and being able to run them as well, […] I did a lot of those things as Expansion Director in junior year—that was only a year ago hotdamn—but I feel like in terms of life skill that’s definitely up there in what I’ve been able to practice, along with just seeing the dynamics of a group and what the heck do you do with a couple of people on your team that are just not in it.


Kevin: I can say, one way I definitely know it has influenced me is in the organization I am very much involved in here. I am currently co-director of logistics for the United Nations Association for UNAF. When I first took on the position, I was like some things never change, I’m still doing logistics. It was doing it in JSA that showed me that I had a strong interest in that and I had the skills to take it on, I’ll also note that JSA can be great material for college and scholarship application essays. The experiences and skills you have the opportunity to take in JSA, not just if you sit in the back of the room and not pay attention, but if you actually speak and write bills, and second of all if you have a position in your own chapter.


Question: Where are you planning to go to college, and what are you planning to study?


Kyle: I am going to UCLA with Erin, and I think UCLA. For UCLA its probably the one place […] where I’m gonna be able to expand on my knowledge of environment, get my bearings as a scientist. I want to research as soon as possible, not into climate change and stuff like that but there’s so many other environmental issues that kind go unnoticed, […] it’s all focused on climate change, but there’s so many other environmental issues that should be payed attention to.


Abe: I’m going to UC Berkeley and I’ll be studying computer science and political science, international relations, in the College of Letters & Science. I’ve been programming since I was a kid, and being fascinated by politics since I started high school. It’s really exciting to be able to study both in such a great place.


Kiran: I’m going to the University of California, Santa Cruz and studying computer science. I think computer science has one of the most applications out there in the real world in terms of, you’re able to work in any industry you’d like to. But beyond that being able to work in an industry where the field is advancing so quickly really interests me.


Marianna: Brown. Brown University. Physics and History. I like physics because I like thinking about the world on a different scale. And history because also kind of for that same reason, I like seeing where we are right now as part of a broader picture.


Skylar: Oh boy! The question that every adult has asked me in the past six months! I’m headed to Swarthmore College in Philadelphia[…] Honestly I’ve had kind of a weird journey of what I wanna study. If you’d asked me freshman year I would’ve been like “Ugh, I don’t know, math maybe?” That was just ‘cause I was good at math, but I found out pretty quickly that being good at something doesn’t mean you’ll like it. […] So by the time senior year rolls around I’m thinking to myself at this point, it’s probably sixty percent political science […] and maybe double major in something related like economics. But thirty percent chance that I could do something education related. ‘Cause this year partly through martial arts and partly through me unconsciously taking mental notes at school, I’ve been really interested in how different people teach and how would you how you might teach this given subject. […] And that was kind of a lightbulb moment of hey I’m actually interested in education. Then again I’m also interested in making money so I’m thinking to myself like there’s a ten percent window of I could do something completely different from those two, it could be like business or mechanical engineering.


Question: What is your biggest regret in your time in JSA? What was your hardest moment in JSA? Was there ever a moment you felt like you just couldn’t do it anymore?


Kyle: Kiran already said it when he said I should have joined earlier. I should have joined freshman year honestly, […] I would’ve loved to be in cabinet as an initial experience, cabinet is so much more focused, you have a job and you have to do it well. Because there’s so many people depending on you for taking the initiative and doing it early, I think it would’ve helped me a lot with doing regional stuff, going into regional stuff early and not having roots in jsa was a mistake. I became a senator from junior into senior year and I’d been to four conventions, three before I announced, and that was pretty much because I was talking with Elizabeth and she was like “oh yeah no one’s really running, you should do it,” and I was like sure I can organize well. Honey, you have to have a lot more than having organizational skills.


Abe: Mostly within my chapter. If you have never felt pain, join leadership at your school, you will feel pain, you will feel so much pain. And it’s not because everyone in the leadership thing that you’re leading hates you—and they do—it’s because for some reason the smaller a scale something is on, the more power hungry people get and the bigger vendettas they grow. So do leadership at your school because chances are if you’re in NorCal JSA and you’re reading this, you’re a fairly privileged white person and you should feel the slightest bit of sadness in your life.


Kiran: There were some times which I would say difficult, I wouldn’t say overwhelming in a sense. One was coming back from MayCOG which is the initial Council of Governors meeting and speaking to both Elizabeth, Erin, and Dan. I think after going to that meeting and coming back it’s sort of a huge reality shift in terms of what JSA is, our mission, how long we’ve been around for and really the national JSA as a whole. So coming back from there and being able to effectively communicate what happened during that meeting what the reality shift was was something I felt I didn’t do effectively, so that was kind of a conflict between me and mainly the LTG, but some part with the Speaker of the Assembly, so I felt that was a difficult time for us right around then.


Marianna: When Kiran asked me to drive to Burlingame on my birthday. There were times when I got really busy with my classes and student government at my school and college application, so it went up and down, definitely in the months like November, December it was really really busy.


Skylar: It kinda seems to me that my biggest weakness has been at the chapter level. My freshman year our chapter president was this guy named Mawi Fasil, like a super charismatic guy, I think he pretty much won speaker in his like second year of being in JSA. The point is that the charisma that he and a couple of other people in his grade [were] able to bring to the chapter grew it to something like 30 people and then at the moment I started my senior year I think there were like 6. And that’s probably my biggest regret of JSA, not being able to expand my chapter and […] just going to it for the conventions and I’m kinda disappointed in myself that it turned out that way.


Question: What was your favorite moment in JSA?


Kyle: I think my favorite moment in JSA was giving my chapter presentation for the chapter of the year award, it was a small moment but it kinda brought my entire JSA experience together. What it was was a bunch of TAs in the room and Elizabeth, and Marianna talking about our club for literally half an hour. I think going into it Elizabeth was freaking out because she thought she didn’t know what she was gonna say. We had a presentation but we were doing it last minute. I told Elizabeth me and Marianna would take care of it, and Elizabeth was like “I’m so scared, I don’t know what to do,” and it was comforting her and going into that room and killing that presentation was my favorite part. […] That’s when I realized, woah, our club is amazing. I love everyone there and that’s why I’m gonna miss it so much. Everyone I met in JSA has been a person that I felt like if I had become childhood friends with I’d love them beyond friends, like oh my god, I love you so much why didn’t I get to know you earlier.


Abe: Honestly, working on a campaign for an eventually victorious candidate for senator and also handling actually typing in results during the election was really exciting stuff. It was incredibly tense and it felt a little bit like if I mistyped then we would have problems, in the end actually my votes that I typed in were correct. The election was tense and fun, and also running my own campaign when I was running for senator was pretty cool actually because although I lost, I lost to a deserving victor and Jake. [At the request of the interviewee the following sentence was added to the final answer:] Guys, I’m eating a quesadilla and it changes how I think, it’s Santa Cruz, they put weed in it.


Kiran: I feel like there’s instances where I’ve felt like I’ve dominated the argument, but at the same time the audience’s attachment to the issue, that they felt that the issue itself was wrong, and [even though] I wasn’t voted best speaker of the audience, I still felt good about the debates. There was one, it had to do with a tax on carbon [which] was based on a certain act passed by a certain government. So I was speaking con, I was speaking against the carbon tax which is usually unpopular. The act itself was passed by a series of nations and it was to limit carbon taxes or to charge companies based on carbon taxes, and the general consensus was that from afar it looked really good, because it was pro-environment, it looks great, all these things. I began to investigate it and I realized many of the underlying clauses were actually in favor of the companies which were actually in a way promoting these kind of actions. I also made different arguments of how this is too lax of an act or law to support. […] I was just trying to effectively prove it was ineffective legislation, but overall everyone voted in favor of my opponent who’s a pro speaker because it’s a carbon tax, but I felt I did admirably well on that issue.


Marianna: Yeah I’ve actually had a lot of those moments. I think when I saw someone really talented go up and speak, I mean I saw that countless times, but those were really good moments for me.


Skylar: I’ve always loved Winter Congress because its like literally seeing teenagers accurately act out—that’s the crazy part—accurately acting out how adults decide the future of the country. Like we can do that, and being able to see that was probably the most inspiring part. In terms of like if there’s a moment where I decided hey this is why I come to JSA conventions, there’s one game I brought called Snake Oil. It’s this game which is basically, you have a bunch of nouns in your hand and you have to pick two of them and make up a product to sell to this given kind of person like an undertaker or a bouncer or a party clown. All of those people, every time we played I was just blown away by the personalities that came out during that game.

“Change is the law of life. And those who look only to the past or present are certain to miss the future.”  ~ John F. Kennedy


Let’s get to know the New big three!

Jesus Tellitud

Jake Hanssen (LTG):

  1. How do you feel after winning?

It was an amazing feeling to win, but more incredible was the opportunity to run a campaign. Ravi, my Campaign Manager, made everything about the race so much more exciting, and Katey, the other candidate, ran an absolutely flawless campaign that made the race more of an experience for everyone at the convention.

  1. What’s the first thing you’re going to do after being elected?

First and foremost, cabinet applications need to be released. My work with the Governor and Speaker of the Assembly has only begun, and it is our utmost priority to deliver those applications as quickly and painlessly as possible.

  1. How will you represent JSA and everything it embodies?

Coming from the most populous region in NorCal, I’ve been able to experience a wide range of perspectives from an even wider range of people at these conventions. Hopefully, these perspectives are implemented into my work as the LTG.

  1. What do you think is the biggest problem NorCal JSA is facing at the moment?

At first, I believed that JSA wouldn’t survive without an increase in attendance to our conventions; however, after speaking with the LTGs from other regions, I discovered that NorCal is one of the larger regions. Still, I would love to compete with SoCal, who regularly attracts over 1,000 people to their conventions. Higher attendance at all three conventions would be a huge benefit to NorCal, and I see it as something that I can work with the other Big Three members to achieve.

  1. Favorite meme?


  1. Do you have a message for NorCal?

My message to NorCal is: get ready for a great year! I know that I speak for Angelica and Kate when I say that we’re all looking forward to a fantastic year and to our service for the people of NorCal.

Angelica Vohland (Speaker):

  1. How do you feel after winning?

I am absolutely thrilled to have been elected NorCal Speaker of the Assembly! Although I ran unopposed, it still feels somewhat surreal to be calling myself a member of the Big Three. Being Speaker of the Assembly has been my dream since my very first convention (Fall State 2014), and I am honored to have the ability to make a real difference in an organization that I love like a family. I am also thrilled to be working with Jake and Kate, who are both true inspirations to me in terms of work ethic and passion. We have a great year ahead of us, and I am so excited to speak with delegates about positive changes that they would like to see within our state.

  1. What’s the first thing you’re going to do after being elected?

After being elected, my first job will likely be to get Cabinet Applications organized and released. NorCal Cabinet Members will have the opportunity to attend CabCon in August, which is a convention held to help organize and plan out departmental goals for the next year. My personal goal is to select both strong and experienced cabinet members for the Activism and Fundraising Departments to ensure the highest level of state-level success as possible. If you’re interested in applying for NorCal Cabinet, click on the link below!


  1. How will you represent JSA and everything it embodies?

I have been a member of NorCal JSA for 3 years now, and my passion for this organization grows with every convention I attend. I know for a fact that hundreds of other bright and dedicated students love JSA for the same reasons that I do: JSA provides us with a safe and healthy community to not only share our opinions about the world, but it also gives us the ability to connect with a variety of students from across the state. I hope to show my dedication to JSA through bringing us together as a community, and attempting to maintain the true purpose of JSA to the best of my ability. I have made an effort to speak at every debate I attend, and my experience politics and public speaking will hopefully allow me to make the smartest and most beneficial changes to our state as possible.

  1. What do you think is the biggest problem NorCal JSA is facing at the moment?

One issue that NorCal JSA is currently facing that I would like to focus on improving over the next year would be expansion within smaller chapters that have already expressed interest in JSA. At Spring State, we had the honor of hosting small numbers of students from schools like Jefferson and Bishop O’Dowd. Our next goal within NorCal is to assist those chapters in expanding within their school communities so that more students can have the opportunity to become involved with a great organization like JSA. By offering scholarship opportunities for chapters that assist in expanding another chapter, we can hopefully encourage more delegates to attend upcoming conventions.

In terms of JSA cabinet leadership, another large problem that NorCal JSA is currently facing is probably internal communication. While we had some fantastic ideas last year to enhance both the NorCal fundraising and convention departments, internal communication issues made it hard to carry them out. Director-to-director communication is also crucial within NorCal JSA, so it is imperative that we focus on making sure all lines of communication stay open between departments so that more innovative ideas can be created.

  1. Favorite meme?

The Obama/Biden memes are some of my absolute favorites. It’s interesting to imagine that in a few years, students will likely be studying the role that memes played in the 2016 election in their history classes!

  1. Do you have a message for NorCal?

I hope all NorCal delegates know that they are in good hands, and I’m so excited to be working with everyone over the next year to harness NorCal’s potential and bring this state to new heights!

Kate Gross-Whitaker (Governor):

  1. How do you feel after winning?

Amazing. I have aspired to being elected JSA Governor for years now, so, though I hate to be cliché, it is really a dream come true. I’m so excited to have this opportunity to make a difference in NorCal JSA.

  1. What’s the first thing you’re going to do after being elected?

Besides sleep after the campaign season? I’m going to reach out to former governors to get advice, and work with the rest of the Big Three to get Cabinet Applications out expediently and effectively, so we start off on the right foot.

  1. How will you represent JSA and everything it embodies?

As both a student and a leader. I think that JSA gives unparalleled opportunities for high school students to become a part of an organization bigger than themselves and yet discover their own ideas and expand their horizons, and I want to share this experience with as many people as possible.

  1. What do you think is the biggest problem NorCal JSA is facing at the moment?

Expansion. I think that this year’s administration has done a great job starting to get NorCal on the right track to reach out to more schools to start new chapters and expand our existing ones, and continuing this next year is my top priority.

  1. Favorite meme?

Any with Joe Biden, Star Trek, or Harry Potter. What can I say, I’m a nerd.

  1. Do you have a message for NorCal?

Stay active! Go to the one days and the beach day, and keep an eye out for Cabinet applications headed your way!

“We need to internalize this idea of excellence. Not many folks spend a lot of time trying to be excellent.” ~ Barack Obama

Ken White on JSA

Akshara Majjiga


JSA CEO Ken White first became involved with JSA seven months ago, though he wishes he had found the organization sooner. Before JSA, White had thirty years of experience working with nonprofits. In his short time as the CEO of JSA, White has been amazed by the energy, creativity, and passion of every student he has had the opportunity to speak with at recent NorCal JSA conventions. Read on to see what White had to say about his experience in JSA and his advice for students.


North Star: What is your job in JSA?

Ken White: My job is to help ensure that all members of JSA have the support and the opportunity to take advantage of what this organization has to offer. So what that translates to on a daily basis is making sure that all the chapters are supported. All the conventions, all the activities, all the summer schools are supported and properly resourced. But the really exciting part that goes with that is that we get to work with students, we get to work with teachers, and we get to work with alumni, and we get to find out what they’re doing in the world, how they’re seeing the world, what it is about the Junior State that lights them up and how that can translate into really exciting programs and really exciting engagement throughout the world.

NS: How did you get involved with JSA?

KW: Well I’ve been working the nonprofit sector for, let’s see, 30 years now. I’ve worked in a bunch of different nonprofits. And in all of those roles, one of the things I was so struck with and really tried to find organizations that practiced this, which was “how do we equip everybody who wants to be equipped this way to be an active participant in society, to have a voice, to be able to encourage and interact with others, to understand issues and to be able to have an impact and to have a system where that’s possible.” So the Junior State of America in some way is sort of the culmination, for me at least, of 25-30 years of work with organizations in different issue areas that were all concerned with community engagement and the possibility of all of us being able to participate in our society and our government.

NS: Were you involved in JSA before you became the CEO and in what capacity?

KW: No, sadly. I grew up in New Jersey in the 1960s and 70s, and there was no JSA in New Jersey at that time so I had no exposure to JSA as a high schooler, and didn’t have exposure to it as an adult, which is, in a way, actually one of the reasons why I wanted to take this role with Junior State of America, which was that our board and I’ve heard this from our students as well, really wanted the organization to be better known. And I’m really hoping that over the next few years, we’ll see the profile of Junior State of America rise, not only for the activities of young people in the organization, but for what our alumni are doing out there in the world, that this is a lifelong, generational movement to support a stronger civil society.

NS: How long have you been working as the CEO of NorCal JSA, and what has changed since then?

KW: One of the things that I have focused most on in my last seven months is listening and learning. And so the first thing that I’ve learned about Junior State of America is how true and how appropriate our model of learning democracy by practicing democracy really is, and being student lead and student run is not just a catchphrase. It’s embedded in the DNA of JSA,

NS: What is your favorite thing about JSA?

KW: I have to be honest. The thing that I enjoy most about JSA is just the incredible amount of energy and care and thought that I experience every time I step into a room where people in JSA are together, and particularly when I step in a room where students are working together. It’s just remarkable. I was at the Northern California Spring State, and just the amount of vibrancy that’s present whenever JSA-ers get together is my favorite thing.

NS: What is the biggest thing you want students to learn from JSA?

KW: I mean every student is going to have an experience and every student is going to have their own nuanced understanding and appreciation coming out of JSA. But I think one thing I’ve heard consistently from students and alumni is that JSA was a place where they found their own voice and learned a lot about their own identity through engagement with other students and adults. And if JSA is offering a place to do that for young people, then that’s a great thing to be doing.

NS: What is one thing you have learned through working with JSA?

KW: I don’t think I realized when I started in this job just how much thoughtfulness, maturity, wisdom and self management I was going to experience from the moment I walked into my first JSA gathering.

NS: A lot of students don’t know about you or about the adult leadership behind JSA. Is there anything you’d like students to know about you or about the organization?

KW: About me, I was until I started this job at JSA: I’ve been a high school mountain bike coach, and I haven’t had the time recently because this job has kept me kind of busy. And I’ve always enjoyed working with high school age students in particular. And that the students in JSA should feel completely at ease when they see my coming up and starting a conversation with me because to me there’s nothing more important than hearing from JSA-ers about their experiences and how we can do a better job of supporting them.

NS: Do you have any advice for students who are currently in JSA?

KW: Well, since I didn’t do JSA myself and I’m relatively new, I’m going to keep a low profile on my own personal advice until I know a little bit more. But one thing that I’ve heard from a lot of people in JSA and one thing that I’ve heard consistently from alumni in JSA is that the friends you’re making through JSA are probably going to be friends for a long time.

NS: Do you have anything else to add?

KW: Let me see, the only thing I would have to add is if I may make a small commercial. I would encourage students to consider participating in one of our summer programs: the summer schools or one of the shorter summer institutes because it’s such an enhancement to the JSA experience and it’s an opportunity to increase both your knowledge, your leadership skills, and your range of friendships and understanding.



                      JSA, Northern California