This year marked the 50th anniversary of the National Rural Electric Cooperative Youth Tour to Washington, D.C. (June 14-19). There were approximately 1,800 students participating from across the country, and Michigan was represented by 18 students from eight electric co-ops, including Cherryland, Cloverland, Great Lakes, HomeWorks, Midwest, Presque Isle Electric & Gas, Thumb and Wolverine.

While in Washington, the Michigan students traveled with a local tour guide who provided a valuable amount of history and depth to the many monuments and memorials visited, including Arlington National Cemetery, Vietnam, WWII and Korean War memorials, and the Lincoln Memorial. Students also explored museums in small groups, including the Newseum, American, Natural History, and Air & Space museums, and the National Gallery of Art. Watching an evening performance of the murder-mystery comedy “Shear Madness” at the Kennedy Center was also part of the fun.

On “Capitol Hill Day,” the students met with Sen. Debbie Stabenow, and Reps. Dan Benishek, Dave Camp and Bill Huizenga. Students also experienced their democracy in action as they witnessed votes being cast on both the House and Senate floors and engaged in a constructive, impromptu dialogue with Huizenga and a local grassroots activist on the Capitol steps (a photo was posted on Huizenga’s Facebook page the next day).

Prior to these visits, students participated in a briefing with NRECA legislative team member Chris Haggem, and met with Hayley Alexander, a former Youth Tour student from Mississippi that now works on Capitol Hill as a scheduler for Michigan Rep. Justin Amash. Hayley talked to the students about internship opportunities and the experience of “transitioning” from her rural community to life in D.C.

Student feedback was very positive, noting that Youth Tour is a “once-in-a-lifetime experience” that introduced them to a whole new world and made them really think about their futures. Students are often surprised that the connections they make on Youth Tour are as valuable as the things they see and do, with several saying that “the relationships I made with my peers and chaperones are life-changing” and “I’ll have the friends I made for life.”

MECA thanks Amanda Olds (Cherryland) and Nicole Barfell (Midwest) for assisting MECA staff as 2014 tour managers.