Hesperia High School seniors Kevin Ta and Gokul Veedu know the stereotypical career paths Asian-American students are supposed to follow, attending a four-year college before pursuing a career in medicine, law or business.
Last week, a group of Asian-American leaders in Sacramento urged them, and 48 other students from around California, to expand their horizons.
"Asians are the fastest-rowing group in America," Veedu said Wednesday. "The amount of representation we receive in government isn't proportional."
That's due in part to a lack of Asian-Americans pursuing a career in politics and related fields, argued the adults who spoke at the 22nd annual Asian Pacific Youth Leadership Project conference.
"These are (state) senate members, assembly members," Veedu said.
"Most of our advisors were important people," Ta said.
Speakers during the four-day conference ranged from elected officials to political staffers to business leaders and poets, all of whom urged the attendees — each of whom had been selected based on the strength of their application essays — to look beyond the traditional definitions of success.
The highlight of the conference was a mock legislature day, when each of the 50 students took on multiple governmental roles, playing both elected officials and lobbyists on the floor of the state capitol. Ta found himself serving on the state's public safety committee, while Veedu served on the education committee.
"It was like a huge debate," Ta said.
"We could see the normal tours going on up above," Veedu said. "They said 'Oh, that's only where normal people get to go.'"
The event's organizers may have succeeded in their goals with the students from Hesperia High School (one of only two high schools to have two students accepted to this year's conference). Both have been accepted to several four-year colleges, with Ta planning on pursuing a business degree and Veedu looking to go into neuroscience. (Granite Hills High School senior Rosa Wan also attended the conference.)
"For me, it kind of opened my eyes to how far-reaching the political field is," Veedu said.
"I'm considering being a lobbyist," Ta said.