As I started filling out college applications my senior year of high school, I realized that I wasn’t doing enough and sports weren’t going to cut it, so I joined my high school’s Youth & Government program.
One of my teachers was the program sponsor, and she was always telling her students how great the program was. It sounded interesting, and I knew it would look good on college applications, so I figured it wouldn’t hurt to attend the informational meeting. It turns out the program was more of a learning experience for the students to build leadership skills, which I needed going into college. I was about to become a small fish in a big pond, and I didn’t know how to handle myself in this new world.
Youth & Government is a mock legislature, meaning it’s an inauthentic form of government made up of students, where they create a bill for the state of Illinois. Students support their bill through two pre-legislative conferences and attempt to get it passed by the youth governor.
There is also an option for students to participate in the judicial system where they can attempt to go through appeals with a mock supreme court.
Students start by deciding what they want to be: an attorney, legislator, lobbyist, executive official or member of the press. I chose to be a lobbyist since it was my first and last year being involved with the program, and I wanted to do something that would be easy. All lobbyists do is write a brief promotional essay for the bill they are assigned to.
The best part of the experience was spending the weekend in Springfield. I wasn’t a popular kid in school, and I was also shy and awkward, so the program helped me to get out of my comfort zone. I made great memories with my classmates whom I didn’t know well, but became friends with over those three days. There was no stereotypical high school hierarchy between the students. We were all there to have fun and see what it was like to make a difference in the world.
I will never forget that weekend or the months of work leading up to that weekend. Youth & Government helps students build character in their leadership abilities, along with their ability to handle the workload required of them. The program ended up meaning more to me than just a check mark on a college application.