NASHVILLE, Tennessee–More than 500 high school student delegates from across Tennessee gathered in Nashville on Thursday to attend the first day of the 65th Annual Youth In Government General Assembly, a Tennessee YMCA Center for Civic Engagement program.
Susan Moriarty, executive director of the Tennessee YMCA Center for Civic Engagement, who, along with associate director Elise Addington Dugger runs the annual event, told The Tennessee Star that more than 2,500 Tennessee high school students in grades 9 through 12 participate in Youth In Government events scheduled throughout the year.
On Thursday, delegates met at the Nashville First Baptist Church. Friday, Saturday, and Sunday they will meet at the House Chambers, the Senate Chambers, and the Cordell Hull Building of the State Capitol.
The closing ceremony will be held at 11 a.m. on Sunday in the House Chambers.
Delegates are assigned specific roles, either as members of the General Assembly in the House or Senate, judges on the Supreme Court or lawyers arguing before the Court, lobbyists, members of the Governor’s Cabinet, or members of the Press Corps.
The 30 member press corps this year publishes two to three editions of the newspaper each day, as well as a daily video newscast, which is published to YouTube and is available on the cable channels of the hotels in which the students stay during the General Assembly.
Stella London, a student at Mt. Juliet High School, who was elected governor of this year’s Youth in Government General Assembly at the end of last year’s session, delivered the Governor’s Address to open the proceedings.
“In politically turbulent times like these, following the horrific mass shootings at Marjory Stoneman Douglas School in Parkland, Florida, it is more crucial than ever to see strong young people advocating for a better tomorrow,” London said.
“As we share insight into how to move forward, it is equally important to honor those who lost in this tragedy,” she continued.
“That is why I would now like to observe a moment of silence and reflection for those 17 young people. Please join me,” London asked her fellow delegates, as she bowed her head, and all 500 delegates joined her.
London then addressed the core of her message about the significance of Youth In Government.
“Youth In Government is the perfect place to begin shaping the world. And now, more than ever, we must recognize the power of our voices and our ideas,” she said, adding:
We are the ones who will change our reality.
Though it may seem small now, know that each and every one of you, first year delegate or fourth year veteran, is creating a pattern of change and influence on a much larger scale.
We are the learners of today and the leaders of tomorrow, and we are starting the change now.
One highlight of the schedule is the election of officers for the 2019 Youth In Government General Assembly.
Students run for a variety of positions, including Governor, Lieutenant Governor, Speaker Pro Tempore of the Senate, Senate Floor Leader, Senate Clerk, House Speaker, House Floor Leader, House Clerk, and several others.
The electioneering began Thursday after the various candidates for office delivered their speeches to the assembled delegates.
Delegates featured on the ballot who spoke included the following:
Two Gubernatorial candidates: Alexa Nolan from Page High School and Abhi Manda from Central Magnet School in Murfreesboro.
In the Senate, Collin Coil from Independence, Ethan Fell from Signal Mountain, and Alphonso Jones from Glenncliff are competing for Red Lieutenant Governor, and Garrett Schneider from Independence and Brandy Yuan are competing for Blue Lieutenant Governor.
In the House, Sydney Coil from Independence and Cimrun Srivastava from Central Magnet are competing for Red Speaker of the House, and Rene Cruz from Central Magnet and Meredith Dunn from Page are competing for Blue Speaker of the House.
About 50 additional student delegates are vying for 17 other offices.
The polls open at 9 a.m. on Saturday, and close at 5 p.m.
Father Ryan juniors Michael Lenahan and Thomas Marcum spoke with The Star about why they decided to become delegates to Youth In Government.
You can see the video of their comments here:
Three students from Central Magnet School in Murfreesboro also spoke with The Star about why they came to Youth In Government.
You can see the video of their comments here:
A second highlight is the deliberations among delegates in the House and Senate to consider passage of a number of bills which student delegate legislators have introduced.
Among the bills under consideration are:
- An Act to Require Mental Health Screening for All Tennessee K-12 Teachers in Public Schools
- An Act to Allow Teachers to Have Concealed Weapons in Classrooms
- An Act to Allow Undocumented Students Graduating from a Tennessee High School to be Eligible for Instate Tuition at Any Tennessee-funded University
- An Act to Ban Corporal Punishment in Schools
- An Act to Start School Days No Earlier than 8:30 a.m.
- An Act to Require Semesterly Drug Searches in All Tennessee High Schools
- Improvement Act (to reduce the gas tax by 6 cents per gallon, from 27.4 cents per gallon to 21.4 cents per gallon, “which is the original amount before the passage of the IMPROVE Act.)
- An Act Bringing Driving Education to All Public High Schools in Tennessee, as an Outside Program for Students 15 Years and Older
- An Act to Expand Access to Organized Extracurricular Activities for Home School Students
- An Act to Establishment the Tennessee Climate Change Management Commission to Monitor Climate Change and its Mitigation
- An Act to Establish Commuter Rail Systems Connecting Nashville to Neighboring Exurbs
- An Act to Prohibit Smoking While Driving a Vehicle
- An Act to Preserve Net Neutrality in Tennessee
- An Act to Promote Economic Development and Modernization Using Blockchain Technology
- An Act to Provide Menstrual Products Free of Charge to Homeless Shelters
- An Act to Improve Concussion Protocol in All High School Sports in Tennessee
- An Act to Reform Tenncare
- An Act to Create a State-Run Insurance Agency
- An Act to Promote Mixed City Planning Through Tax Incentives
- An Act to Establish a Tennessee Sponsored Internet Service Provider
- An Act to Make Davidson County a Sanctuary City to Ensure Protection of Undocumented Immigrants
- An Act to Implement Sanctuary Cities in Tennessee
- An Act to Re-enfranchise Convicted Felons
- An Act to Have an Ethnic Studies Class as a Graduation Requirement for Cultural Awareness
- An Act for Transgender People to Change Their Birth Sex Assignment on Their Birth Certificate
- An Act to Add a Tax to Land Bought by Chain Companies
- An Act to Remove Confederate Symbolism in Tennessee
A third highlight of the session is the Governor’s Budget Meeting, in which the Governor and the Governor’s Cabinet prepare the budget proposal for the coming fiscal year.
A fourth highlight is the final Supreme Court case, in which the five members of the Supreme Court listen to arguments from both sides on the constitutionality of one of the bills passed by the Senate and the House.
Alexa Claremont, who teaches Social Studies at Hillwood High School in Nashville, brought 33 students to participate in the Youth In Government event. Claremont told The Star that she had participated in Youth In Government as a high school student herself, and was eager to have her students have the same experience.
You can listen to her comments here:
Students from high schools across the state, accompanied by their faculty advisors, are participating in the four day event.
Participating high schools include: Glencliff, Antioch, Central Magnet, Signal Mountain, East Ridge, Lebanon, Smyrna, Kipp Collegiate, Clarksville Academy, Page, Collegiate School, Independence, Fairview, White Station, Mt. Juliet, Father Ryan, Summit, Hillwood, Sale Creek, LEAD Academy, and White House.