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Today is January 22, 2019


Youth Tour teaches students incomparable civics lessons

By Michael Callahan

Michael Callahan
Michael Callahan,
Executive Vice President/CEO
EPAs of Mississippi

Keeping 70 high school juniors entertained, safe and on schedule during a week’s tour of Washington, D.C., is quite a challenge, but worth every effort.

Electric cooperatives sponsoring students to the annual Electric Cooperative Youth Tour feel strongly that the program pays immense dividends to both students and their communities. Young people emerge from the program with a deeper understanding of leadership—why it matters, ways to develop it and how to use it in their young (and adult) lives.

The Youth Tour is a part of the Electric Cooperatives of Mississippi Youth Leadership program. Since the program’s inception 31 years ago, hundreds of deserving Mississippi students have participated in this unique, enriching experience.

Each student earns his or her way into the program by demonstrating initiative and leadership potential through a competition at their local electric cooperative. The competitive process seeks to identify students who not only excel academically but are eager for self-improvement opportunities.

This year’s Youth Leadership participants first met a few months ago at our three-day leadership workshop in Jackson. They came from every region in the state, from backgrounds as diverse as Mississippi itself. By the time they departed for the Youth Tour in June, each one had 69 new friends.

For most, the tour was their first trip to Washington. During one very busy week, tour buses whisked the students to museums, monuments, memorials, historic sites and even a pro-baseball game. They walked through Arlington National Cemetery, toured the U.S. Capitol and explored the Smithsonian museums.

The tour sites were chosen to give the students a broad, eye-opening education on how America works. The lessons touched on history, government, military service, civil rights, science, religion and culture.

Throughout Washington, the Youth Tour students saw American values communicated through iconic memorials to war veterans, and monuments to presidents and civil rights leaders.

At the Newseum, they learned about the five freedoms of the First Amendment: religion, speech, press, assembly and petition.

Touring Arlington, they saw sobering reminders of many who lost their lives fighting to protect these freedoms, or while serving their country in other ways. They respectfully watched the elaborate Changing of the Guard ritual at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and viewed the Space Shuttle Challenger Memorial.

The Washington National Cathedral, one of the largest cathedrals in the world, underscored the theme of religious liberty. It was built over the course of 83 years to be the nation’s “house of prayer for all people” regardless of faith. There the students saw the pulpit where the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his last Sunday sermon before his assassination in 1968, the tomb of President Woodrow Wilson, as well as the cathedral’s great organ with more than 10,000 pipes.

I can’t imagine any young person returning from Youth Tour without a newfound appreciation for his or her country. Judging from years’ worth of past participants’ comments, we believe the entire Youth Leadership program makes a life-long impression.

Electric cooperatives continue to support the program because it succeeds in motivating students to become better prepared for (and understand) the duties of citizenship in a free, democratic society.

I’m sure these students will remember and benefit from their Youth Tour experience well into adulthood. I hope it makes them more appreciative of being an American. It’s still a great nation.

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