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Government matters: Woodbury teen keen to make a difference

Woodbury resident Alexander Pavlicin has been selected as one of two Minnesota delegates to attend the 55th annual United States Senate Youth Program. A senior at Stillwater Area High School, Pavlicin will spend March 4-11 in Washington D.C. studying the workings of the federal government. Each of the 104 delegates receives a $10,000 college scholarship. (Submitted photo)


Given the current political turmoil in Washington, winning an all-expenses paid trip for a week in our nation's capital might prompt a few sarcastic wisecracks. What's second prize? Two weeks?

But Alexander Pavlicin has no time for cynicism or polemics. The Stillwater Area High School senior just wants to get to work. Pavlicin, of Woodbury, plans to make the most of his trip to Washington next month. He's one of two students in the state who were chosen to attend the 55th annual U.S. Senate Youth Program.

"Regardless of personal opinions or beliefs, I'm really excited to go to Washington D.C. to work with our leaders and experience the government on a national level," Pavlicin said.

The highly selective program recognizes exceptional high school students who are considering a career in public service. Two students are chosen from each state, as well as two each from the District of Columbia and the Department of Defense Education Activity. Each delegate also receives a $10,000 undergraduate scholarship.

U.S. Sens. Amy Klobuchar and Al Franken announced the selection of Pavlicin and Heather Lynn Weller of New York Mills, Minn., in January.

March 4-11, Pavlicin and his fellow students will immerse themselves in the workings of the nation's capital. They'll hear major policy addresses by senators, cabinet members and officials from the departments of State and Defense and directors of other federal agencies. They'll meet with a justice of the U.S. Supreme Court.

"I have been following and listening to different perspectives on government most of my life," Pavlicin said. "I would say that I'm very proud of the struggles our nation has overcome and I am more optimistic now than ever before the way our nation has moved forward. I would say that we would have to continue to work together and try and move forward."

In 2016, Pavlicin and some of his classmates visited Waterloo, Iowa, and worked on the campaign for U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, DFL-Vt. The decision was not based on ideology, Pavlicin said. They had contacted several other campaigns before deciding that the Sanders' campaign would be the most interesting.

In Iowa, Pavlicin conducted some door-to-door canvassing in Waterloo, where, he said, he was stunned to learn that 75 percent of the community were unemployed following the financial crisis of 2008.

"Listening to the perspective of community members ... taught me perhaps the most important lesson of the trip: government extends into everyday life in diverse and unique ways," he said.

Pavlicin and his classmates made the trip as students in the AP U.S. government and politics class taught by social studies teacher Roger Stippel.

"He definitely is a high achiever," Stippel said. "Whereas a lot of other people have ideas, Alex gets things done. A lot of us get crippled in the thought process. I call it paralysis by analysis. He's a doer."

Last year, Pavlicin helped found Youth for Sustainable Solutions, a student environmental group. He also served on the steering committee for Sustainable Stillwater and is a Washington County representative for iMatterNow, a youth network dedicated to reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

The daunting odds of being selected for the Senate Youth Program didn't dissuade Pavlicin from trying, Stippel said.

"It takes guts to believe in yourself. Alex had to believe, knowing the odds weren't exactly in his favor, but he has to believe that he's going to be an impressive enough candidate."

That confidence, however, is leavened with a healthy dose of humility, Stippel said. Becoming an Eagle Scout taught Pavlicin the importance of being humble and pitching in.

"He has both the confidence that you can do things that many people don't believe they can. But the (humility) to know that you can always do better, to push for more."

Pavlicin said he hopes to obtain a dual degree in engineering and international relations. He will also pursue a master's degree in engineering.

He credits his character to his mother, Karen Pavlicin-Fragnito, who raised him on her own after his father Robert died in 2003. She has since remarried.

Pavlicin also serves his community as an Order of the Arrow member, assists students with special needs at his church, tutors other high school students in math and physics, and competes in cross-country running, baseball, and basketball.

"There's so many things he's done," neighbor and Boy Scout mentor David Bardwell said. "I can't even keep track of all the things he's accomplished."

The Washington trip might include a visit to the White House and a meeting with President Donald Trump. What would Pavlicin say to the Commander in Chief?

"I would ask him what it's like to be center stage and one of the most powerful men in the world," he said.

William Loeffler

William Loeffler is a playwright and journalist from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He worked 15 years writing features for the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. He has also written travel stories based on his trips to all seven continents. He and his wife, Michelle, ran the Boston Marathon in 2009. 

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