More than 50 high school students descended on Springfield on April 25 to take on the legislative process, lobbying, voting, and reporting on legislation. The event was part of State Senator Chuck Weaver’s (R-Peoria) Youth Advisory Council.
“We have assembled a group of some of the brightest young minds in our state,” said Senator Weaver. “The goal is to help prepare them to be the future leaders of our communities and our state.”
The students kicked off their day by meeting with Senator Weaver and other lawmakers on the floor of the Illinois Senate chamber. They also heard from representatives of various professional occupations involved in the lawmaking process, from lobbyists to reporters and legislative staff members.
“I wanted to come to the Youth Advisory Council because I thought it would be a really neat experience to actually see everything that’s going on and how everything is actually proposed,” said Kewanee High School student Keegan Kinsella. “I think it could help me in the long run, wherever I go, help me to communicate with people and help me to be a better person and a better leader.”
Richwoods (Peoria) High School student Parker Johnson says she learned quite a bit about what it’s like to be a lawmaker: “I learned how sessions happen and what actually goes on, I learned that it’s probably a really hard thing to do, harder than I thought it was, and just to listen to all your constituents and to do things based on what they would personally like, and I respect them more.”
Students then took on the roles of lawmakers, concerned citizens, lobbyists, and reporters in a mock committee hearing to discuss, debate, and vote on legislation.
“You got to learn about everyone’s perspectives, and how everyone wants to do everything,” said Princeton High School student Kaitlyn Storm. “Sometimes you have to agree not to agree, sometimes you have to just see what everyone says. It’s a lot harder than people think it is.”
“I learned that you can’t just sit back and be quiet when it comes to these things,” said Galesburg Christian High School student Owen Horton. “You have to be able to speak, you have to voice your opinion, and you can’t be afraid of the outcome.”
After hearing testimony from the students serving as lobbyists and concerned citizens, the students tasked with serving as lawmakers proposed an amendment to their bill before voting on the legislation.
“It’s really interesting to see people from all different kinds of backgrounds and all their different feelings and opinions and to just really have to work together and have to listen to each other and understand each other,” said Mercer County High School student Lauren Morby. “I think this council has really taught us that we need to listen to each other or we’re not going to get anything solved.”
“There’s definitely a lot of opinions out there so to learn that people may or may not respect your opinion but to still be able to say it, I think that’s definitely a skill I picked up,” said Cambridge High School student Kaiden Vinavich, who added that he thinks the program has helped to prepare him for college. “This really gets you introduced to how other people think, because not everyone is going to think like you in college, so you’re going to have to know how to adapt to your boss, your coworker, and that kind of stuff.”
The students eventually voted unanimously to adopt the amendment to their legislation and then voted unanimously again to pass the amended bill.
“It’s amazing to see these young people discuss and debate major issues so passionately, then work together to forge a compromise,” said Senator Weaver. “I hope we’ve given them a few more tools as they continue to develop into our future leaders.”