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The Young Politicians Club at Cheshire High School has become one of the most active in the entire school.
Each year the group sponsors political question and answer sessions with different politicians from around the area, and on both sides of the party aisle. Many of the members have also taken an active role in campaigning, including several students who championed Gov. Dannel Malloy's candidacy last year, earning them an invitation to his inauguration.
And, in keeping with the overall theme of the group, a debate is held each year where the students haggle over the pertinent issues of the day, taking up either the Republican or Democratic cause.
On April 27, 20 members of the club were invited to attend the League of Women Voters of Connecticut Education Fund’s 42nd Symposium on International Relations at Yale University's West Campus in Orange. The program revolved around health, education, and entrepreneurship and how each initiative has and can affect change in the world.
Several speakers from a diverse background spoke about their experiences both in studying the issues confronting the world and addressing them directly in the field.
“It was a very positive experience,” said CHS student Sean Kinyon, who is the president of the Young Democrats portion of the club. “It was really interesting to hear these individuals talk about their experiences and the hands-on approach to trying to help with these problems.”
One of the speakers who impressed Kinyon was Yale University professor Dean Karlan, who founded the Innovation for Poverty Action group, which looks to help impoverished nations.
Kinyon related a story told by Karlan at the symposium, where he spoke about an experiment done in one impoverished area to see what would benefit education the most. To that end, one village was given new books for students while another was provided with uniforms and other supplies. A third village, however, was provided with mosquito nets to help keep out the pesky bugs.
When the experiment was completed and the data tabulated, it was determined that the village which received the nets saw the largest overall increase in the quality of education.
“The mosquitos were carrying disease,” said Kinyon. “It was amazing to see how something you wouldn't think could affect education actually had the biggest impact.”
Student John O'Reilly, president of the Young Republican block of the group, was interested in a different speaker, and different topic, than Kinyon. Wenchi Yu, policy advisor to the secretary’s office of Global Women’s Issues, which is a part of the U.S. State Department, focused on women in the work force and how, while opportunity for women has improved dramatically, working conditions and average pay still lag behind.
“Their levels of pay and responsibilities afforded (women) are vastly different (than men),” said O'Reilly. “She had some very interesting ideas as to how one could correct that.”
One of the solutions O'Reilly found innovative was Yu's suggestion that companies interview women first when looking to fill an open position. That would force businesses to at least consider women for higher positions and give the female candidate a chance to impress her potential employer.
While Yu impressed O'Reilly, another speaker, Philip Altbach from Boston College and Saint John's University, did not.
“He came across as very elitist,” remembered O'Reilly. “It seemed like he was saying that only certain schools provided an education that was really worth something. I think he offended a lot of people in the room that day.”
With the school year coming to an end in a little over a month, the symposium is one of the last events the Young Politicians Club will organize. However, both Kinyon and O'Reilly admitted that the lessons they have learned by being a part of the group will stay with them well past their time at CHS.
“I really learned that your happiness and sense of worth doesn't come from personal accomplishments,” said Kinyon. “Whenever you're doing something just for yourself, you don't feel as complete as when you're working for someone else.”
O'Reilly agreed with his classmate, and also pointed to the politics of the day, and how each generation has a responsibility to become involved.
“The policies of today will be affecting us tomorrow, so it is important that we know what is going on,” said O'Reilly. “We have to have the dialogue now because, one day, we will be the ones making the decisions.”