I am a firm believer in being an active citizen. While our freedom of speech is said to be a right, really it is more of a privilege when you compare our nation with the world. That is why I fully support the YMCA’s national program, Youth and Government. Celebrating our privilege to speak, Youth and Government encourages students to learn, care, and speak about the government. I thoroughly enjoyed my two year tenure in the program and the Sunny Star I’m about to introduce has taken the program to a whole new level. Ariana Johnson has been in the program the past three years and she has made a tremendous difference expanding her chapter and getting their voices heard. I’m so excited for you to read her story and I hope it will inspire you to make use of your privilege to be a part of the government.
1. You are very involved with Youth and Government. Can you tell us what the program is about and how it has affected your happiness?
Youth and Government is a program in which teens from all over the state of California come together in order to reenact the California Legislature and Court. It is unique in the fact that the teens “run” the government during this program. A governor is elected, the majority of real government positions filled, and students are given the opportunity to explore positions, even those non-government related, such as print media, news media, etc. I have been involved in this program going on three years now, and it is one of those unexplainable experiences. I have never felt so in control and so in tune with my own ideas as I am while participating in this program. It has directly affected the way I see myself, that is as someone who can make a difference, and thus has led to a rise in my happiness.
The feeling of seeing myself, and my friends speak their minds, stand strong in their opinions, and progress as leaders is incredibly rewarding. As the my delegation co-president for two years, being able to see the excitement of a fellow delegate who won their debate, or whose name was called out in front of all 2,500 teens is unforgettable. It makes me happy knowing that there are people out there that care about the progress of our state, and who dedicate their time to educating themselves and others on political issues and history, that many others teens overlook or don’t make the time to learn.
2. What is your job specifically in the program and why did you chose it?
This year I am a Governor’s Lobbyist. After participating as a lobbyist last year I realized I was incredibly passionate about debating political issues, so this year I applied and was chosen to be one of twelve lobbyists, working to pass the legislation the Governor believes is priority, as well as helping debate the legislation seen by the Cabinet in order to find its weaknesses and loopholes. I chose to be a Governor’s Lobbyist, because it not only is exhilarating to debate in front of many committees, but it also gives me practice public speaking and is incredibly interesting to research issues I may never have dealt with before.
3. What has been your happiest memory from your experience?
I have honestly enjoyed all the program has given me, but the most memorable moment for me was standing up at my first committee debate, seeing no familiar faces, and summoning the courage the speak about a bill on the operating system Linux. For me this challenge seemed impossible, I was nervous, not well versed in computer lingo, and didn’t have anyone to turn to. I began to speak almost without me knowing, and by the time I had reached the end of my opening statement I was calm, passionate, and had a huge adrenaline rush. When it came time for rebuttal I stood up confident and ended up passing the bill I was debating for. As I sat down, I tried not to show my excitement, but I was so proud of myself I felt as if everyone could see the huge grin I was trying to hide.
4. What has been the most challenging aspect and how have you been able to overcome it?
Coming from a small delegation it is difficult to feel powerful, especially when other cities have as many as 250 people within only one delegation. It is challenging to become known within the program, making it more difficult to become elected into positions or even to have recognition. This problem has been faced by all those individuals coming from a small delegation, and as a part of the Ventura Family delegation, instead of giving in, we have chosen to put ourselves out there even more and fight to be heard. This year alone we have two individuals in the executive branch, and the Attorney General. While we still may only have 24 people, we chose to create two bills instead of one, and I know every individual involved in our Youth and Government family truly puts 150% into every part of the program. It may be hard, but we truly show the program that size doesn’t matter.
5. What would you say to teens who feel like just one person can’t make a difference?