The official student newspaper of The Hockaday School

The Fourcast

The official student newspaper of The Hockaday School

The Fourcast

The official student newspaper of The Hockaday School

The Fourcast

Lone Star Royalty Q&A
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Senior Splash Day
Current Events
Senior Splash Day
Mary Bradley Sutherland, Photo and Graphic Editor • May 13, 2024

Commissioned to Lead


Sitting up in the City Council horseshoe at Dallas City Hall on a Tuesday night last month, junior Mary Orsak leans forward into the microphone and voices her concern surrounding the issue of environmental sustainability in Dallas. The room falls silent as Orsak, eyes trained intently on the meeting’s presenter.

In Nov. 2015, Orsak was selected to serve as the Youth Commissioner for District 13 in a competitive process. The Youth Commission was reinstated in Oct. 2015, after a period of ve years in which it was not active. Its mission? To have high school students evaluate the youth programs funded by the city.

Orsak first heard about the opportunity when former Assistant Head of Upper School Elizabeth Jones sent out an email that advertised the position.

The email was written by District 13 Council Member Jennifer Gates, who had opened up the position to youth living in her District. Hockaday falls under Gates’ jurisdiction and covers the neighborhoods of Preston Hollow and Vickery Meadow, down to, but not including, Highland Park.

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After completing her written application, Orsak was invited to an interview with Gates.

During the interview, Gates recalls being impressed by Orsak’s professionalism and her interest in public policy. “Mary has an interest in government of all levels, and I knew that she would bring her energy and passion to the Youth Commission if she was selected,” Gates said.

Orsak was soon appointed to two posi- tions on the Youth Commission: secretary and Chair of the Education Committee by the chair of the Youth Commission. These roles entail recording the minutes for each meeting and focusing the conversation on ways in which education can be improved in Dallas ISD schools, respectively.

“We are working on an education survey right now where we would go to classes and talk to students to try and address the problems that DISD schools are facing,” Orsak said.

The educational survey will include questions about whether students in these schools enjoy the programs that their school provide and whether there are any services that could be added.

Orsak reports to Gates once per quarter to keep her updated on the Commission’s progress on matters such as this. During each meeting, Gates informs Orsak on the most important issues that the city faces, while Orsak keeps her councilmembers updated on topics brought up in Youth Commission meetings.

Over time, Orsak has gained much from Gates’ expertise in youth issues and her thoughtful guidance. “[Councilmember Gates] is really a mentor to me,” Orsak said. “People often toss youth issues aside since we don’t have the power to vote, but [Gates] really cares about this,” she said.

But Orsak’s work does not just end there. She also works alongside her peers to address issues, such as homelessness and the problem of rampant stray animals in South Dallas, during the quarterly meetings.

Youth Commission Coordinator Anthony Cao oversees these meetings, ensuring that all 15 Youth Commissioners’ opin- ions are taken into consideration in the discussion surrounding city issues.

“I try to identify areas of intersection between Youth Commissioners’ interests and city issues and act as the the liaison between commissioners and city officials,” Cao said.

Led by Cao, Orsak and the other Youth Commissioners are currently addressing the issue of privatizing Fair Park, which has traditionally been publicly owned by Dallas and is being considered for privatization. Orsak believes that privatization would lead to more uses for the land, which is currently being used for the State Fair of Texas and little else.

“Fair Park is in a central part of Dallas and it has great resources,” Orsak said. “We want to see it as a yearlong venue that can be used in many ways,” she said.

In an effort to revitalize the area, Orsak and the other Commissioners want to bring economic investment to Fair Park.

“The Youth Commission made a proposal on how we think [Fair Park] should be used,” Orsak said. “We hope to bring things like college fairs and job opportunities to it.”

Orsak wants to continue her work with the Youth Commission and in doing so, continue to improve the Dallas community.

“We’re going to continue to explore how we can best serve the city and gure out what community most needs our service,” Orsak said.


Eshani Kishore – Features Editor

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