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Today is May 30, 2020

Q&A with Wallace Bass on life, learning & leadership

By Sandra M. Buckley

Q&A with Wallace Bass on life, learning & leadership

Visit to watch the inspiring presentation delivered by Wallace Bass that received a standing ovation from 9,000 people. 

The National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (NRECA) Annual Meeting in Orlando last March was an especially momentous occasion for Mississippi. The reason is Wallace “Bubba” Bass, an 18-year-old from Carthage, had the opportunity of a lifetime to speak to the event’s audience of nearly 9,000 industry leaders – and he brought every single one of them to their feet in an impassioned standing ovation for his extraordinary and moving presentation.

Bass was on stage as the 2018-19 NRECA National Youth Spokesperson, and he stole the show that day. Poised and eloquent, he shared a personal glimpse into his life in Mississippi, his family, his faith and his life’s goals. One powerful message was the legacy left by his great-grandfather who worked as a sharecropper to provide for his family of 14 children and how he displayed his worn-out, ragged work shoes as a symbol of his hard work and sacrifice to remind and challenge Bass to always work hard because he had “big shoes to fill.”

Bass is adamant about how grateful he is to Central Electric Power Association for having selected and sponsored him for the 2018 statewide Youth Leadership Program. It was during the youth workshop that year that he, a high school junior at the time, was chosen as Mississippi’s representative for the National Youth Leadership Council. From there, he went on to capture the top award of the program, the speech competition, last summer in Washington, D.C., where he competed against 42 council members from other states and was named the National Youth Spokesperson. Bass was the third Mississippian, in the state’s 32-year history with the program, to earn the esteemed national title.

Through the Electric Cooperatives of Mississippi, 20 local Mississippi electric cooperatives currently participate in the youth program each year, and the rewards for these students, schools, communities and state are invaluable. “We participate in the annual Youth Leadership Program to expose our high school students to a world of opportunities and experiences,” said Michael Callahan, executive vice president and CEO of the Electric Cooperatives of Mississippi. “There is no doubt that the impact this program is making within our state is exceptional. And Wallace Bass is one outstanding example.” 

Bass, who graduated in May from Leake County High School, shared a few thoughts below with Today in Mississippi on how his experience with the Youth Leadership Program has made a lifelong impact.

What does “leadership” mean to you now? 

After reflecting on my experiences within the Youth Leadership Program, it became clear that the duties of successful leadership are ongoing, requiring strict determination, commitment and loyalty. On a more personal level, the Youth Leadership Program has taught me the value of time management, organizational skills and professional development. As a youth of today, I believe the call to action is for policymakers and youth leaders to develop a successful educational system, promote business ownership, entrepreneurship, health and wellness, which will make a great impact locally and globally. Therefore, leadership is always expanding his or her horizons, strengthening skills and taking the elemental steps to solve problems. 

In your presentation, you focused on President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s quote, “We cannot always build the future for our youth, but we can build our youth for the future.” Why?

The future of our country is undoubtedly in the hands of its youth. 
Therefore, organizations like the Youth Leadership Program present a tremendous part in ensuring an advancing step within the impactful progression of the youth. It allows students to build character and develop skills, such as goal-setting, problem-solving and sound decision-making. Hence, the selfless contributions of the Youth Leadership Program are exceedingly important in structuring our communities, our nation and the world.

The “Let there be light” theme in your speech creatively tied in electric cooperatives. You also stated, “Electricity is one of the greatest technological innovations of mankind.” What do these powerful words mean to you, in the context of this industry and to the future of our world? 

In the 1930s, rural families and landowners were literally left in the dark. From the perspective of someone that lives in rural Mississippi as of 2019, I am able to empathize with their frustrations. There have been countless times that I was unable to complete homework assignments, use the phone or even watch TV due to extremely poor internet connection and slow return from satellite signals. As leaders, it is not only our job to listen to every voice, but to take action and “Let there be light” on everyone throughout the world. I am excited for the electric cooperative industry to become future-forward with new technologies coming down the line.  

How did receiving a standing ovation by an audience of 9,000 industry leaders feel?

A million things were flowing through my mind as I received the applause. I became overfilled with an enormous wave of pride and joy. I naturally glanced at my mom throughout the speech, and the beautiful smile on her face assured me that she was extremely proud! In that instance, the enormous roar and standing ovation of 9,000 people was a priceless moment in my life that I will never forget.

As you shared on stage, your great-grandfather was a special influence in your life. Has his “you have big shoes to fill” challenge shaped your character and faith?

My great-grandfather has always been a great representation of how a man of God should live. Even through adversity, he strived to give the best of himself to his family because he believed that every generation should improve. His knowledge constantly reinforced an atmosphere that prized devotion to family, love and education. His resilience created an environment for his descendants to be thinkers, doers and decision makers. Thanks to his sensitivity and emotional intelligence, I am confident in my ability to contribute to the world and continue to “fill his shoes.”

What are a few milestone experiences the program afforded you and how they impacted your future goals?

Speaking in front of 9,000 people at the 2019 NRECA Annual Meeting was a pinnacle moment in my life. I hope to keep having noteworthy things to say, with even bigger audiences as God continues to mold me. The entire Washington, D.C., experience was phenomenal! As I walked the steps of Capitol Hill, observing the historical monuments honoring Franklin D. Roosevelt, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and John F. Kennedy, I felt the significance of what our country represents and it engaged my attention to its wide political arena. I also dream to leave a legacy that would afford me the opportunity to also have monuments created for my passion to make a bigger impact on the world around me.

You described your Youth Leadership Program experience as “an opportunity of a lifetime.”  Why?

As I quickly approach the beginning of my college venture, I will always remember the support and inspiration that I received from the Central Electric Power Association, Electric Cooperatives of Mississippi and NRECA. This experience has definitely been a pivotal moment that I will treasure for the rest of my life. It has afforded me countless opportunities, and I have met so many warm, loyal and enthusiastic people. In addition, the Youth Leadership Program has encouraged me to stay focused on my career goals and to do my ultimate best. I am eternally grateful to the Central Electric Power Association and board members for choosing me to represent our fine community.

Is your family a valued support system? 

My family keeps me grounded. The love, encouragement and sacrifices they have poured into my life have been incredible. I draw a lot of my strength from my mother because of her countless expressions of love. She has kept me grounded spiritually, by teaching me to always keep God first and always walk in faith. My siblings keep me motivated, energized and make me feel like I can conquer the world. I couldn’t ask for a better family!

What’s next for you

I will be returning to Washington, D.C. in June 2019, as the current YLC representative and to serve as NRECA Ambassador. In the fall, I will attend Tuskegee University, double majoring in mechanical engineering and political science. My future plans include the Air Force ROTC program, becoming an active member of the United States Air Force after college, starting my own engineering firm and eventually running for a political office. 


For information on the Youth Leadership Program, visit or contact Elissa Fulton at or 601-605-8600.

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