Teen Face: Cutting his political teeth at El Molino

First-generation Indian-American has gained a reputation at Forestville high school for ensuring that students’ viewpoints are heard.|

If Harsimranjit “Sam” Kang ever goes into politics in the future, his experience while attending El Molino High School will serve him well.

His resume would likely have made even a young Bill Clinton envious. President of the student body. Student representative on the West Sonoma County Union High School District. A regional official in California Association of Student Councils. A participant in the Asian Pacific Youth Leadership Conference, which included a mock debate on the state Senate floor.

“For me, politics has always been interesting,” said Kang, a 17-year-old senior. “Obviously, a lot of politics over these past years have been a source of interest and disappointment. … It’s because of this I have these conflicting emotions about politics.”

The first-generation Indian-American said he was distraught over last year’s federal government shutdown and political bickering between the parties as he felt issues such as immigration, the minimum wage and the environment were not sufficiently addressed. By contrast, he is impressed with how the state Legislature has been in moving policies through “for better or for worse.”

Kang has gained a reputation at El Molino for ensuring that students’ viewpoints are heard. He was part of a student committee that provided input on the selection of a new principal at El Molino, which has been on a recent upswing with an increase of enrollment, expansion of programs and plans for renovations.

“He’s always looking for different ways to be engaged,” said Jacob Rich, community outreach coordinator for El Molino High School. “He’s definitely a mature, level-headed young adult.”

Kang said that too often in his school experience, “students were just subjected to whatever the adults say they were going to do.” He said he has fought for their voices to be heard, especially on student-run activities and spirit events.

Kang balances his studies and activities, which includes a big love for badminton, while also working at his parents’ convenience store in Forestville. His parents came over from the Punjab region of India in the 1990s with very little knowledge of English. At times, as a youth, Kang would serve as a translator. They first worked at a 7-11 store in Petaluma, where as a toddler he would hang out in the back room.

Given his love of politics, Kang’s choice for the politician he most admires could surprise many: Sonoma County Supervisor Efren Carrillo, who last year was acquitted on a misdemeanor charge of attempted peeking. But Kang said he was impressed with how Carrillo handled questions when students asked about the incident during a recent visit to the high school, noting the difference between personal conduct and public performance.

“He was really open about it,” Kang said. “He said he was ashamed about it and remembers it every day.”

Kang said he also admires Federal Reserve Chairwoman Janet Yellen.

Kang said he is undecided on what subject he will major in at college, but wants to make sure the university has some flexibility as his interests range from economics to Spanish, chemistry and biology. And no, Kang hasn’t ruled out political science.

You can reach Staff Writer Bill Swindell at 521-5223 or bill.swindell@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @BillSwindell.

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