“I know now what changed my heart. It was not just the monuments and memorials, not even my selection to be a Youth Leadership Council (YLC) delegate. It was the people I came in contact with who told me America’s story, so that I could tell it to you and others. America has a wonderful history and we, as her people, have the responsibility to retell her story so that she is not forgotten. I am not only proud to say that I’m an American, I’m proud to say that I will tell the American story forever.”
This was the ending of Marlene Walker’s speech at the Association of Illinois Electric Cooperative’s annual meeting last July. She was speaking about her trip to Washington D.C. as part of the Illinois Electric and Telephone Cooperative’s Youth to Washington Tour. Walker was first selected to attend Youth Day in Springfield by her school’s guidance counselor at Windsor Senior High. She was then chosen from among her fellow students to attend the Youth to Washington Tour and was sponsored on that all-expenses trip by Shelby Electric Cooperative in Shelbyville.
Walker gave a wonderful speech at the Association of Illinois Electric Cooperative’s (AIEC) annual meeting, partly because she now has the skills and experience needed to be comfortable with public speaking. During the Youth to Washington Tour, Walker gave a speech to fellow participants, seeking to be chosen as the group’s delegate for the YLC. The group agreed she was the strongest candidate. After the trip, Walker returned to Washington, D.C. to meet with delegates from the other states in the country and to learn more about speech writing, presentation and how cooperatives have helped improved our country in many ways.
To be chosen for YLC she had to wow fellow Youth to Washington participants with a speech. Once the trip was over, she spoke about her experience on the trip at the Association of Illinois Electric Cooperatives annual meeting in Springfield and will speak with students attending this year’s Youth Day in Springfield on March 28, 2007.
She has attended a workshop in Washington D.C. where she learned more about speech writing, presentation and, of course, more about cooperatives and how they serve our country.
“You’re always a little nervous, but after having given my speech at the AIEC annual meeting and at Washington, it’s not as scary as it used to be,” says Walker.
The experiences Walker has gained throughout her year as the YLC delegate should help her with her future college plans, which include a major in agriculture education. She is currently an A student and she’s involved in National Honor Society, FFA, golf and 4-H at Windsor High School in Windsor.
Talking about her Youth to Washington experience, Walker says she was impacted most by the group’s trip to the Iwo Jima memorial, where Thomas Miller, a marine involved in that conflict, spoke to the group. “That was my favorite part of the trip. I liked the historical facts and learning that it was a group effort by everyone to do the whole thing. The teamwork. A lot of what he talked about was how they raised two flags and it was a whole group effort and how even now those marines are the ones he remembers.”
Walker encourages all junior and senior high school students to ask their guidance counselors about the Youth to Washington tour. “It’s the chance of a lifetime. You will learn things and meet people that you just don’t normally have the opportunity to at home at your regular high school. It’s an experience I wish everyone could have,” she says. “Even if you only go to Youth Day in Springfield, it is a great experience. I learned a lot there, too. If you are considering a career in government you will get to see how things are done, it really opens your eyes.”
AIEC Youth Program Coordinator Linda Comstock says, “We encourage sophomores and juniors to apply for this trip. Because they are exposed to the sights of the nation’s capital, the democratic form of government and its leaders, the students will be rewarded with leadership skills that will be demonstrated throughout their life in the communities they live in. We all get to be good friends on this trip and it is great to see how the students take on leadership roles during and after the trip. It is always a treat to hear from students that have gone on the trip and what they are doing as the years pass.”
Comstock has received many e-mails and notes throughout the years from former youth tour participants. Here are excerpts from two such letters:
“Meetings with Everett Dirksen, Paul Douglas and being on the White House lawn with President Lyndon Johnson were beyond the dreams of a farm girl in the l960s. It helped me to realize that being from a rural area was not a liability, and that even important people in the government were concerned about those of us from the country.” – Nancy Fuchs, 1967 participant from Rural Electric Convenience Cooperative Co., Auburn.
“I think that the Youth to Washington program is a great way to help today’s youth gain a better understanding of our government. I gained a deeper understanding and greater respect for what the people running our government do. I think every American should go to Washington, D.C. at least once in their life, and the trip is something I will never forget.” – Kelsey Jarrett, 2006 participant from Egyptian Electric Cooperative Association, Steeleville.