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Somerset teen to speak in Washington, D.C.

"Why not try things? It sounds like fun."

With that as her credo, Johanna Smith, a junior this fall at Somerset High School, embarked on her school career.

To date, she's been involved in track, cross country, basketball, choir, band, forensics, FBLA, Destination Imagination, student council and recently was named student representative to the School Board. She also is the assistant minister for her church in Stillwater as well as being a Girl Scout for 10 years.

Now she can add "honored guest and keynote speaker" to her growing list of accomplishments.

This July 28-Aug. 1, she will be on an all-expenses-paid trip to the Junior National Young Leaders Conference (JrNYLC) in Washington, D.C. She will address the middle school student attendees in two keynote speeches as an honored guest of the Congressional Youth Leadership Council.

All this began with a nomination from Roseanne Erickson, K-12 Gifted and Talented Coordinator.

Smith, along with Elizabeth Ottman and Mack Ott, was nominated to attend the National Young Leaders Conference in Washington DC this past April. The conference offers top students from across the country the opportunity to discuss and debate current events and leading issues with national leaders.

Smith said she was particularly impressed by the people she met.

"I got to meet (Congressman) Ron Kind and shook his hand," Smith said.

As part of the conference, she competed against 266 other students for the House of Representatives. She came in second place.

As runner-up, she was given the honor of giving the closing speech. She made such an impression that one week later she was invited to compete in a national speech writing competition to speak at the Junior NYLC that summer.

"They said to make a speech to inspire people," Smith said. So she wrote about the "fear of failure" - how people like Abraham Lincoln and Michael Jordan had to push through failure to be successful.

When her speech made the final round, Smith participated in a conference call phone interview.

"That made me really nervous," she admitted.

Obviously not her to detriment as she was told she won the contest and the all-expense-paid trip to Washington, D.C.

"I'll be more of an advisor to the middle schoolers," Smith said.

She certainly qualifies for that role. Already this summer she was selected to attend the Wisconsin Leadership Seminar in Waukesha at Carroll College June 13-15.

In addition to her activities, she is getting up at 6 a.m. each day to teach herself to play the trumpet this summer.

"I tried last year, but I had braces and it hurt too bad then," Smith said.

She already plays the piano, alto and tenor sax, flute and takes weekly voice lessons. Her training has enabled her to be part of the Wisconsin State Choir in Madison for the past three years.

"I really look forward to that camp," Smith admitted. "That is one of the things I fit my schedule around."

Of her community involvement, she is working on her Girl Scout Gold Award by making quilts for a Chilean orphanage.

"She went there on an Outreach program in 8th grade and fell in love with the kids," Debbie Smith, her mother, said.

Johanna, the youngest of three children, said her family has inspired her to become involved.

"My grandpa is really into politics. He always said I'd be a senator or President someday," Johanna said.

As far as her future plans, she said she is keeping her options open.

"It's so hard to decide. I like everything so much," she said.

One option she is considering is chemical engineering. She already has full-ride offers from the Illinois Institute of Technology and the Franklin W. Olin College of Engineering in Massachusetts.

"I really love science and math," Johanna said, "ever since I attended a 7th grade engineer camp in Hudson.

"But I've also always wanted to be President."

So what does this future leader have to say about the 2008 Presidential candidates?

"I think Obama is popular with the younger crowd, but I don't think he has a plan," Johanna commented. "I haven't heard an outline about how he is going to accomplish what he said he would.

"I'm pretty conservative, so I'm rooting for McCain."