Tuesday, October 19

Tennessee’s electric co-ops send rising high school seniors to our nation’s capital to promote knowledge of government affairs, citizenship and history

Nine hundred words. That is all it took to earn such an amazing opportunity from a local co-op I had no idea was so involved in my little community. I did not know when I started my essay that in just a few short months, it would lead me to a trip of a lifetime.

When I first heard that the reward for winning the essay competition was a visit to Washington, D.C., I didn’t know how to feel about it. Everything I had seen or heard about Washington was always so negative, and I didn’t want to be in a harsh environment with people I didn’t know. Once I arrived there, though, I knew my perception of the city was completely wrong. D.C. was beautiful and alive with conversation. The people there knew the importance of their city and exhibited it in their posture and walk. It was the most amazing thing I had ever seen, and it was granted to me with the simplicity of 900 words.

The people in Washington, D.C., were interesting in a way that made me in awe at their presence; however, the most interesting people that I met were my Sequachee Valley Electric Cooperative family. Yes, we all did meet before the trip, and we knew who each other were. Those little meetings only allowed us to see each other but not get to know one another in a deep and intimate way. The Youth Tour gave us all a chance to open up to each other and express who we are. The first day was awkward, and none of us really knew how to behave around the other delegates, but by the third day, we were all simply best friends. Each of the SVEC delegates was unique in his or her own way, and I noticed as the trip continued how hard everyone worked to appreciate such a special opportunity. I saw this same trait in all the delegates from across Tennessee I met, and it made me proud to be a part of the group.

My favorite place that the tour stopped at was the Holocaust Memorial Museum. We were given the honor and privilege of listening to a survivor’s recounting of the tragic event. Her story was chilling and beautiful — like the museum itself. When I stepped into the exhibit, I could feel the emotion in the room. The delicate artifacts and documents that hung on the walls told their own stories about individuals I did not know, but I could feel their presence there. I enjoyed how quiet and serious it was. Today, not many things are dealt and handled with respect, so it was nice to see all of the delegates pay attention and take in the rich history of a devastating time. This destination was also the one that created the biggest impact on my life. I had always been curious about the Holocaust. It was interesting yet scary and heartbreaking, and when the subject was brought up in school, I did a lot of research to learn as much as I could about it. Seeing the museum in person made me feel something I cannot describe in words, and it made me thankful for the life I have been given.

Students from across Tennessee gather in front of the U.S. Capitol for a photo op. Representing the Volunteer State this year were 150 students from 24 electric co-ops.

The most unexpected thing I experienced on the trip was the feeling I felt in D.C. and the bonds I made with the other delegates. Before the trip, I was scared of D.C. All I had to base my thoughts and opinions on were negative and disturbing things. I was nervous to stay with people I hardly knew, and I figured I would spend the week alone and wishing the trip would end. I was far from right. By the end of the trip, I did not want to leave and had gained seven new best friends! I would describe myself as a shy person, but the trip allowed me to come out of my shell. Being able to talk and grow with people I did not know before was an incredible experience that I wish everyone could have the opportunity to go through. It made me realize the importance of the Washington Youth Tour and why it has gained so much credit over the years.

In conclusion, I did not expect this trip to be as fun and rewarding as it was. The impact it made on me has lasted way past the visit, and I know it will not only affect my senior year but also the rest of my life. As my senior year approaches, I want to stay in touch with my cooperative and tell others — especially the rising juniors — about the incredible opportunity that they, too, can have if they only sit down and put forth the effort of 900 words. I will never be able to forget the many memories I experienced throughout this trip, and I cannot thank Tennessee’s electric cooperatives enough for the opportunity of a lifetime.

“While each destination impacted me in a different way, the Holocaust Museum definitely affected my view on life. In school, the Holocaust is just another page in our history book. But seeing the artifacts and hearing the stories of this atrocity firsthand impacts you in a totally different manner. This museum made me even more grateful for American democracy and the freedom of diversity in our nation.”
— Addison Dorris

Holocaust survivor Esther Starobin shares her experiences with the group at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum.

“I knew I was going to have fun on this trip. I didn’t know it would be with so many new friends. I never thought that making friends would ever be so easy or that I would get along with new people this well.”
— McKenzie Dale

“There was one memorial that truly changed my outlook on life. The Vietnam Veterans Memorial was impactful. Unlike the other memorials, you could see not only how it impacted the veterans but how it impacted their families. It almost brought me to tears to see a note saying “miss you PawPaw” and graduation pictures of their grandchildren. It was hard to look at, but it needs to be. Seeing how their life affected others was an enlightening experience.”
— Austin Burkhart

Students representing Holston Electric Cooperative gather near the Capitol.

Vietnam Veterans Memorial

“I didn’t think 900 words could change my life THAT much, but it did. I got to see my nation’s capital, make friends, eat some great mac and cheese and learn so much more than what my textbooks at school have to offer. This trip is something that will stick with me for a lifetime, and I can’t wait to go back to D.C!”
— Anna Herrell

Rain clouds roll in over Arlington National Cemetery, and the tour continued through the following showers.

“Arlington National Cemetery was definitely my favorite stop of the tour. I enjoyed witnessing the sacred ceremonies held at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. It was very moving and emotional to see the Changing of the Guard and the wreath-laying ceremony. It just reminded everyone to forever remember the soldiers who gave their all for our freedom.”
— Hannah Mae Arcega

“Before the short story contest, I had no clue where my electricity came from, and I really didn’t care as long as the lights turned on and the TV worked. Now I feel pride when I say my power company empowers my community and my country.”
— Katelyn Carpenter

“For me, the most unexpected thing about the trip was bonding and getting so close to people in a matter of hours before we walked through the streets of D.C. Everything was a first-time experience for me, including eating from a food truck.”
— Jadelynn Fox

“Never in my life did I imagine that writing this short story would impact my life this much. I saw so many things, many of them once-in-a-lifetime experiences. Youth Tour has changed my life for the better. Because of a 900-word short story. I cannot express in words how grateful I am for these new lifelong friends.”
— Olivia Carpenter

Sen. Lamar Alexander addresses Tennessee’s Youth Tour contingent.

Going on the Washington Youth Tour showed me the impact the electric co-op has on the community. They give scholarships to aspiring college students, send juniors like me to Washington, D.C., free of charge and provide millions with electricity — all while being a nonprofit or-ganization.”
— Rylan Greene

“Getting to hear directly from our senators and congressmen made me feel like an adult for the first time in my life. The final reason Capitol Hill had a lasting impression on me was because I got to see my older cousin in her workplace. My cousin, Elissa, has always been a role model to me, and seeing her (in person) working at our nation’s capital 10 years after her own Washington Youth Tour made the dream of working in D.C. real to me.”
— Katie Mays

Volunteer Energy Cooperative representatives pose for a selfie.

West Tennessee students and chaperones begin their tour of D.C. monuments and memorials at the U.S. Capitol.

“Thanks to this trip, I will approach senior year and life differently. This trip has shown me how many opportunities there are in life; you just have to be willing to look for them.”
— Brooke Jackson

“Because I attended the 2019 Washington Youth Tour, I have approached life differently. There are things I want to do, and I have set my mind on it. I am willing to go for it and not be afraid of making mistakes because behind every successful person is a lot of unsuccessful years.”
— Jaelyn Phillips

“I went into this trip with more knowledge than most — my mother won the trip when she was in high school, so I had some knowledge of what to expect. Those expectations, however, were blown out of the water. I had so much fun and made memories I will never forget. I gained respect for those who have or are fighting for our country and have truly realized how lucky I am to live in this country. I am very thankful for the chance to be able to come on this trip.”
— Benjamin Naylor

Tennessee’s wreath adorns the Tomb of the Unknowns at Arlington National Cemetery.

Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial

“I am a huge history buff, and this past school year, I was able to take two college classes: American government and early United States history. When I went on the Washington Youth Tour, I saw the lessons of my government and history classes come to life. All the famous names, places and dates leapt from my mind into real things such as statues and buildings. I was surrounded by our nation’s past, and I was thrilled.”
— Emma Bradford

Washington Youth Tour delegates pause to capture snapshots of the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial from across the Tidal Basin.


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