A science whiz, a professional ballet dancer, a born storyteller, a basketball star, and four others talk about their lives and their hopes for the future
by Esther Kang
It was neither clout nor prestige that first drew Joel Sircus to politics, but rather its similarities to his other obsession: sports. “I loved the strategy, the aggression, and the passion of it,” says the Walter Payton College Prep senior. “Sports has a ritualistic and overt following, but politics had a more mysterious shape, so I wanted to become a fan of it like I was a fan of sports.”
By his sophomore year, the teenage political junkie had become the youngest intern for Senator Dick Durbin. A year later, Sircus was one of 30 high-school juniors selected from a national pool to work and study on Capitol Hill for a semester as part of the United States Senate Page Program. In the thick of election season, fresh off a humanitarian aid trip to Rwanda with a teen outreach group, Sircus moved to Washington with “an all-access pass to one of the coolest places in the world,” he says. “Sometimes, you’d be sitting in the lobby, pretending to do your homework, and you’d listen in on senators having conversations about important policy issues.”
Readjusting to life at Payton after a semester in D.C. was no easy feat—Sircus had to teach himself a semester’s worth of AP statistics and pre-calculus—but he handled it with his usual drive and aplomb, being elected student representative to Payton’s local school council and president of his National Honor Society chapter. Still passionate about sports, Sircus is training to run in his first Chicago Marathon in October.
For all his ambition and competitiveness (“If I lose in a board game or in pickup basketball, I get into a terrible mood”), Sircus, say those who know him, keeps a healthy perspective. “There are a lot of interns who come through our offices frothingly ambitious, having an intensity that scares you a little bit,” says Michael Daly, Durbin’s chief of staff. “Joel isn’t like that. He has a very pleasant way about him. He genuinely cares about trying to make the world a better place for those whose lot is not as great as his.”
Photograph by Ryan Robinson