“Many emotions filled my mind as I grappled with the fact I had been elected Youth Governor. It felt surreal, exciting, frightening, humbling, and I have still not recovered from this flurry of feelings. Knowing the overwhelming support I’ve received from everyone is such an honor,” said Cole Cahill, a junior at South Pasadena High School, who had only shortly beforehand witnessed the results of his election displayed live at the annual Governor’s Banquet in Sacramento, California. After a tiring and passionate campaign which had spanned over a year, Cahill won the position of 70th Youth Governor of the California YMCA Youth & Government Model Legislature and Court by an overwhelming number of votes. The program, essentially a six-month civic development and youth leadership experience, allows high-schoolers to come together and learn about various governmental program areas, ending in a 5-day conference over President’s Day weekend that takes place in Sacramento, California.
Cahill, who originally joined the program as a freshman, has developed as a public speaker and engaged young citizen throughout his various leadership positions and Youth & Government experiences. Having held titles such as a Legislative Committee Chair and Lieutenant Governor of Spring Conference in addition to traveling to North Carolina over the summer to take part in the competitive Conference on National Affairs, he has truly made the most out of his experience in Y&G. His campaign for Youth Governor, an extensive, demanding, and extremely rewarding process, spanned over a year. “In Training and Elections II, our second conference in Fresno, I was fortunate enough to advance to the top 5 out of the 23 Governor candidates that started. It was such an amazing experience to speak to the whole program for the first time in Fresno, a crowd-size that was much larger than anywhere I’d ever spoken before. I was so grateful that I was able to do that successfully as well as gain the support from my political party and enough people to continue through.”
More than 3,000 high-schoolers from all over the state of California traveled to Sacramento to participate in the conference, in which they debated pertinent issues, campaigned for statewide positions, and expressed strong opinions through empowering speeches. Various program areas, including Appellate Court, Jury Trial, Bench Trial, Senate, Assembly, the National Issues Commission, and Political Parties, to name a few, allow delegates to learn about the government through hands on experience. South Pasadena High School seniors Declan Chin, Charlie Primuth, and Charlotte Emerson participated in the Constitutional Convention Program area, which allowed participants to write a State Constitution from scratch in only three days. “We have been given lots of time to work on our own proposals, which center around rights, government structure, and setting up systems of health care and education. The program is a lot less structured than others, which allows a lot more time to get through different ideas and perspectives on the issues at hand,” said Chin of his experience in the program area.
Youth & Government, in addition to encouraging students to become interested in the issues that are ever-present in modern day America, is an excellent place for building relationships and creating a sense of unity. “I think Youth and Government is a safe haven for those who might not otherwise have a voice in school, and many people consider this place their home,” said Primuth. Both friendships within delegations and those spanning across the state allow delegates to meet new people through a shared interest in government and politics, all the while gaining new perspectives and outlooks on each issue. “A lot of this program is about strengthening your public speaking skills and learning about government structure, but a lot of it is strengthening relationships,” said delegation president Emerson. “You get to witness a community form before you.”