In 1965, 14 high school juniors boarded a bus and left Nashville, heading to Washington, D.C. The students were part of a new program sponsored by the electric cooperatives in Tennessee and across the nation. The purpose of the trip was twofold: to educate them about rural electrification and show them how their federal government operates.
The idea for the Washington Youth Tour began with President Lyndon Johnson — who, as a Texas congressman, helped found one of the nation’s first electric cooperatives. He knew that educating our youth was a good idea. Yet I doubt that anyone knew just how monumental his idea truly was.
Fifty years later, Tennessee’s Washington Youth Tour program is still going strong. This June, we will send 150 students and 40 chaperones on the tour, more than any other state — even Texas!
For some of these students, the trip marks a number of firsts: the first trip out of state, the first time on a plane, the first visit to our nation’s capital. It provides them the opportunity to see a larger perspective on their world and their future.
The trip lasts a week; the impact lasts a lifetime. More than 1,500 students from across the nation attend the event each year. For many, the trip will begin a journey that charts the rest of their lives. Some past participants have become CEOs, educators or legislators.
This past year, two students who attended the Washington Youth Tour from Southwest Tennessee Electric Membership Corporation will continue to make an impact in their communities and far beyond.
Kai Starmer from Munford High School has been accepted into the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md., and Josh Owen from Covington High School will attend the Citadel Military College in South Carolina.
Rather than using my words to describe these students and their outstanding accomplishments, I want you to hear from Marilyn Means, marketing coordinator at STEMC:
“We should be very proud of these two students who represented STEMC in D.C. this past June. Despite of all the ‘bad’ we hear about the youth of today, I have had the opportunity to witness exceptional youth as I go into our schools and share the cooperative story and to appreciate their leadership abilities as we travel to D.C. each year. I have been blessed to see students grow in leadership roles during and after our trip. I am so thankful that STEMC allows me to ‘pay it forward’ to the youth in our service area. It makes me proud to work for the electric cooperative.”
Hairstyles and fashion may have changed a lot from the 1965 delegation below. The commitment of Tennessee’s electric cooperatives to our youth and our communities hasn’t changed a bit.
If anything, it’s only grown stronger.