Photo Courtesy of Chloe Lighterink
Teenagers take charge of the capital: ‘You can actually make a difference’
March 8, 2019
The governor, justices, chief whip, and other officials have gathered in a convention center in Sacramento to carry out their political duties. But something peculiar is happening. They chant, in unison, “We got spirit, yes we do! We got spirit, how ‘bout you?” It is reminiscent of a high school football game, and there is a reason for that: the officials are all high school students.
The Model Legislature and Court (MLC), a part of the YMCA-led program Youth and Government, brings together 4,000 students from different parts of California to “play a role in the government like the actual people do,” said junior Chloe Lighterink, one of SDA’s participating students. Lighterink and other Academy students spent a week in Sacramento for the youth and government conference last month. They got to execute their assigned roles in simulating the California state legislature and court. She and other participants met weekly from August to May to prepare.
During the conference Lighterink was “a chief justice for a court case” concerning a professor who claimed his First Amendment rights were violated when he was fired for releasing a paper speaking negatively about vaccines.
One of Lighterink’s favorite aspects of the program was the visit to Sacramento: “We’re pretty much on our own for a week…we’re not babied around by our advisors…It’s kind of like you’re let loose in the city – ‘don’t screw up too much.’” She said that she and some of her friends spent their first day in the capital “exploring Old Sacramento…and it’s a very big shift because you’re in a city with lots of cars, hotels, convention centers, then all of a sudden you’re in a western town.”
The “work” days of the week can be “pretty intense,” according to Lighterink. “I left my hotel room by 7:30 everyday and got back around 10:30, and the very last day we were done at midnight.”
The Governor’s Banquet, “where we vote for next year’s governor,” was another on of her favorite events “because [it is] democracy in action…you actually see how your vote matters.” The students not only vote for their next year’s youth governor, they also create bills.
“They go through the Senate and the Assembly and get killed or keep going,” Lighterink said, “and if they’re signed by our youth governor then they go to the real governor’s desk, and if he signs them they become a law.” A bill was passed years ago regarding seat belts.
Also at the conference, Gov. Gavin Newsom came to speak to the students “to say how good it was to be participating in democracy.”
Lighterink recommends the program to everyone, even those who aren’t interested in politics. “I do it for fun,” she said. “I want to go into astrophysics, which is completely different.”
The program has helped her develop certain life skills as well. “It kind of gets the foot in the door for life,” she said. “It gives you lots of leadership skills that I’ve used in resumes and jobs. It also helps you to become a better speaker. It looks great on college apps.”
The program is also a good opportunity to make friends. “You meet people from all around California that you wouldn’t have met before,” Lighterink said. “I have some good friends because of the program.”