In this election year, one political event stands popular with all parties, all challengers, and all incumbents: the “takeover” of the Georgia government by hundreds of the state’s brightest teenagers. The agency sponsoring this and other Youth-in-Government programs, the State YMCA of Georgia, announces registration is open for the 2008 Youth Assembly, to be held Nov. 23-25 in Atlanta.
“There’s nothing like it for understanding government, learning to negotiate and cooperate, and mingling with the political powers that be,” said high school senior, Caleb Faille of Dawson County High School, this year’s youth governor.
At most Youth Assemblies, the actual governor of the state also makes an appearance to encourage the students in their hands-on experience in government. Gov. Sonny Perdue has yet to confirm his intended appearance, but has been in attendance in years past.
A past youth governor, W. Gregory Pope, now an attorney in Covington, was asked about his participation in Youth Assembly over 20 years ago.
“Youth Assembly gave me my first taste of success beyond the confines of my rural community,” he said. “I still remember the importance that I felt by being allowed to sit in the House and Senate chambers; I still remember the thrill of standing in the well to speak for or against the passage of a bill, and I will never forget the honor of serving as youth governor. The students who get involved will make you proud.”
During the three-day takeover of the state Capitol by youth from throughout towns, cities, and all regions of Georgia, students may participate in all three branches of government. In the legislative branch, students participate in drafting and debating bills, and in lobbying for their legislation; in the judicial branch, the students take on a case before adult lawyers and a student justice; and in the executive branch, students take on elected positions such as governor, lieutenant governor, speaker of the House and others.
Those who have attended Youth Assembly have gone on to various professions and walks of life, but according to state YMCA publicists, most vocal in their praise of the program are attorneys, judges and business leaders.
Judge David Irwin (Rockdale County Superior Court) noted that “Youth Assembly still has a bearing on me today. It fostered a desire to study ... to have a complete understanding of our legal system… Youth Assembly is not simply an event but is a lifelong adventure.”
Ashley Hines Ellis, partner in a Statesboro insurance firm, said that “…at my 20th high school reunion, I reminisced about the many trips to Youth Assembly and that the overall experience taught us more than just about government. We had to sharpen our public speaking skills and we learned to think quickly, using our research — all invaluable lessons that have helped me in my sales career.”
When asked about the purpose and past success of the program, Gerald Wade, State YMCA Executive Director, noted that the program dates back to 1945 and has seen the likes of thousands of students fill the seats of the state legislature through the years.