Smithfield-Selma High Senior Earns Experience of a Lifetime
Smithfield-Selma High senior and Smithfield native Jude Reece was recently among a special group of students invited inside the halls of power in Washington, D.C. through the U.S. Senate Youth Program. He was one of only two delegates from North Carolina, and one of 104 delegates from across the country chosen for this honor.
Greer Suggs, Reece’s English teacher, told him about the program, and he immediately jumped at the opportunity. To earn a spot, he wrote an essay about the role of the federal judiciary and defending natural rights, and whether the federal judiciary should be the last line of defense in constitutional rights and freedoms.
That essay earned Reece the honor of spending a week hobnobbing with the likes of the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mark Milley, who spoke to the delegates at the Pentagon, and Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, who the group heard speak in the Supreme Court chambers where cases are heard. “It was a tremendous experience,” he said of the entire week. “I soaked up every minute of it.”
Although this was not his first time in D.C., Reece took his first tour of the White House. While there, he noticed other school groups and individuals also touring the White House. “It was an interesting dichotomy between the White House that is viewed as this regal symbol of American power, but also the public can come and tour, see what’s going on in government, and see the seat of American power,” he commented.
Reece saw this as representative of the American philosophy in general; that even America is powerful but people have a certain level of access. “It’s important that people are involved in their government.”
Initially, Reece assumed the focus for the week in D.C. would squarely be on the workings of the Senate because it was through the U.S. Senate Youth Program, but in reality the focus was on all aspects of government. “That comprehensive look at government from all angles, not just the elective side, and not just the US Senate side surprised me going in, but ultimately made the experience a lot better,” Reece remarked.
Although Reece is now fully engaged with U.S. history and government, the path getting there has been gradual and organic. As an elementary school student, Reece thought he would like to pursue a career in math or science. Then, in middle school, he began gravitating towards marketing. By the end of middle school, Reece realized that he was interested in history. He would spend hours on History Wikipedia, and he followed the N.C. redistricting saga very closely.
At the beginning of his sophomore year a landmark era named COVID occurred, leaving Reece at home with a lot of time on his hands. He used the quarantine time as an opportunity to dive deeper into his interests, taking it upon himself to begin studying U.S. history. “I wanted a better understanding of the country’s background,” he said.
It is obvious that Reece loves learning, and has truly immersed himself in everything that Johnston County Public Schools (JCPS) has to offer. One of the first experiences began at Smithfield Middle when he chose to play clarinet in the band. “I wanted to be a part of something bigger than myself, and it looked like a cool activity,” said Reece. He has continued playing clarinet in high school. “It’s been such a great way to get to meet people from all different parts of the school.”
He also holds a leadership role in the school’s Distributive Education Clubs of America (DECA) chapter, placing first and second in N.C., and is in the top 10 in the U.S. His DECA teacher/coordinator Carlos Sousa said of Reece, “The one thing I think about when I think of Reece is integrity.”
One of the requirements in DECA is that members must complete 150 hours of community service. Reece is using those hours to start a gardening club at Smithfield-Selma High. “He is the person I wish I was at his age,” said Sousa. “He’s going to make a positive impact on our world.”
Currently, Reece and other students are in the process of revitalizing the school’s courtyard, something that he hopes will continue after he graduates.
Involved in a multitude of activities, his academic resume is extensive. In fact, it’s easier to list the things he isn’t involved in. But, Reece doesn’t boast. “He is the most down to earth person,” said International Baccalaureate (IB) Programme Coordinator Cynthia Hutchings. “He has so much humility and he doesn’t brag.”
Hutchings also said that she and his other teachers have to drag information out of him when he gets recognized. One might think Reece’s head would be as large as a hot air balloon, but as he walks through the halls at Smithfield-Selma High, it is immediately obvious that he is liked by students all around the school, getting lots of hellos and waves while changing classes.
Reece believes his high school career has prepared him for the next chapter of his life, mainly because of the school’s diversity. The IB Programme brings students from all over JCPS together for a variety of programs offered at Smithfield-Selma High. “Having that intersection of people from different backgrounds is really exciting because you get to learn from people who are different from you,” he said, “and come together through clubs with a shared goal of advancing our adopted community that is Smithfield-Selma High.”
In addition to being chosen to visit D.C., Reece and all of the student delegates will receive a $10,000 college scholarship. As a Morehead-Cain scholar, Reece also has a full-ride at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill waiting for him upon graduation. At this point, he hasn’t made a decision yet. There are a couple of other universities that he is still waiting to hear from.
Reece knows for sure that he wants to major in public policy and has his sights set on becoming a lawyer. He would like to continue his work in government, as well. "The ability to work alongside people who hold different perspectives is going to be useful whether I end up in the government or not," he said.
Smithfield-Selma High senior Jude Reece recently spent a week in Washington, D.C., meeting
dignitaries from different departments in the U.S. government.
Jude Reece, a senior at Smithfield-Selma High participates in a question and answer session with government officials during a visit to Washington, D.C. through the U.S. Senate Youth Program.