This past summer I was fortunate enough to intern at the White House. I met some of the most incredible individuals from diverse backgrounds and I was able to see some of the inner-workings of federal government. It was truly a privilege. Before my time in Washington, however, I volunteered with a nonprofit organization that gave me perspective to service, an organization that made this all possible – Generation Citizen.
Generation Citizen is recognized for encouraging youth to become active members in our society. If you know anything about this organization, you’d know it does just that. From presenting plans to school principals to lobbying legislators to take action, middle and high school students show that their voices can be heard. Past projects have called for healthier school lunches, increased recycling standards in schools, promoted better relationships between local police and students, and even worked to build a school recreation facility; all through the democratic process.
Now, if you have participated in Generation Citizen as a Democracy Coach, you’d also know that leading a class is far different from what you might have expected. My high school class chose to address human trafficking, an issue so large I didn’t even know where to begin. After a few weeks of discouragement and a project that wasn’t coming along, I considered quitting Generation Citizen. I thought that I was wasting the students’ time as well as my own. It wasn’t until I reflected on the message that quitting would have on my students did I decide to finish out the semester. With encouragement from my fellow chapter members, I started to lead the classroom with a renewed sense of energy. I began connecting with students and pushing them to think for themselves. I was humbled to see a student who before had his head down the entire class begin to contribute to our project.
At the end of each semester, each GC class comes together to present their projects at the Massachusetts State House at an event called Civics Day. I remember worrying that every other class would have a better project. It wasn’t until I saw my class constructing our two tri-boards and helping to compile short clips highlighting the semester did this feeling change. It was at this point I realized it didn’t matter my small high school class didn’t solve the global issue of human trafficking. What did matter was that we had this many more informed citizens that knew how to address societal issues. On Civics Day, my class showed up invigorated and fully prepared. They presented thorough facts and discussed what could be done to effect change to a series of judges.
Reflecting on this series of events was astounding. I saw students learn. I saw them connect with the subject material and I watched them present their findings. You see, if I had quit Generation Citizen, I never would have been able to see students go from disengagement to engagement. I never would have truly appreciated the power of service. And if I never had the opportunity to reflect on this series of events, I wouldn’t have had the desire to continue to serve.
The following two semesters I interned in the Office of Governor Deval L. Patrick. I was fascinated to see how state government works to enact policies that impact places like my high school class. Thereafter, my interest for service continued and I decided to apply for an internship at the White House.
So I leave you with this: If you’re a discouraged Democracy Coach, stick it out. You will be amazed by the self-fulfillment and gratification you receive once you reflect on your semester. You will be a stronger person and regardless of the “success” of your project, you will have a positive impact on your students. And lastly, if you haven’t worked in some service capacity, do it! Who knows, you might uncover a passion you never knew was there.
Elliot Kim, former Chapter Executive Director and Democracy Coach at UMass Boston
Generation Citizen is a nonpartisan, 501(c)3 tax exempt organization which does not endorse candidates; our goal is to engage our staff, participants, and stakeholders in political and civic action on issues that matter to them personally and in their communities. The opinions expressed in this blog post are those of the writer alone and do not reflect the opinions of Generation Citizen.