Nicoletta Karvelas is an aspiring artist from Astoria who dreams of earning a living with her paintbrush.
But in a few weeks she will see the world in red, white and blue when she meets with high-powered legislators in the nation's capital.
Karvelas, a 16-year-old junior at LaGuardia High School of Music and the Arts in Manhattan, was selected with 400 other high schoolers to attend the National Young Leaders Conference from Feb. 18-23 in Washington, D.C.
"It hasn't really hit me yet, but I'm excited," Karvelas said while sitting in the living room of her family's house on 47th Street in Astoria. "I don't know what to expect."
During the six-day conference, Karvelas will get a chance to view democracy in action as she is welcomed on the floor of the House of Representatives, listens to a panel discussion with journalists and discusses national issues with legislators.
But for Karvelas, a Greek American who has visited her family's Mediterranean homeland six times, democracy is embedded in her national identity.
"I'm proud because that's my heritage, where democracy evolved," she said. "We study history and I say, 'Democracy is a Greek word.'"
Nicoletta is an academically minded student who keeps her eyes and ears on current events, which she tracks every day by watching television news and reading the papers.
"I don't like the idea of the hike for the trains and the buses to $2 - I think that's crazy," she said, weighing in on the city's budget crisis. "I know we're in an economic slump."
Art is her passion, though, a fact well documented in the walls of a home that has been transformed into a virtual gallery of her work, dating back to a horse she painted in fourth grade. She spent her childhood watching the world and scrawling down what she saw.
"I always remember coloring all the time. I would draw portraits of people. I'd sit down my brother and draw him," she said. "He was like, 'I don't wanna do this.' He'd move all the time."
She is currently painting a picture that depicts her mother's face in red on one side of the canvas, and her own face in green on the other - a color scheme that just "came to me," she said, because red and green are opposites.
Her mother, Aliki Karvelas, was as uncooperative as her brother. "It was too long," she said. "You have to sit too still."
Nicoletta won't have that problem when she reaches Washington. Sessions with lawmakers will be interspersed with mock-governing sessions in which students will play roles like the president, cabinet members, congressmen and Supreme Court justices.
And perhaps she'll feel the spark of inspiration for her next painting.
Reach reporter Dustin Brown by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com or call 718-229-0300, Ext. 154.
©2003 Community News Group
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