By: Willow Dalehite
The VIP Luncheon at the Capitol on Friday hosted a variety of potential and current donors, volunteers, and sponsors from school districts statewide. Chessie Reese, State Representative Brooks Landgraf, and District Judge Robert Pitman were interviewed in a discussion panel about their experiences in Texas Youth & Government.
Reese is currently a Plan II Honors student at the University of Texas at Austin, and is additionally majoring in Political Science. Her motivations for continuing with Youth & Government changed throughout her time in the program. “Initially I liked winning awards … but of course that quickly became a minor reason to stay in the program,” she said. “After you realize you’re good at something, it’s a matter of contributing to it, improving it and being improved by the structure of a program as good as this one.”
“I was so struck by how much more informed I was becoming about important issues, how passionate I was becoming about civic engagement, [and] how great it was to meet people from all over the state that I otherwise would have never interacted with and had such different views than me,” Reese said. “I’m so grateful now, not for the trophies and medals … but for the friendships and the connections that we made through this program, and … the values that this program instilled upon my character.”
Representative Landgraf, a graduate of Texas A&M, described the Youth & Government experience as liberating. “I learned early on that this is the first thing that nobody’s really forcing me to do … it was intellectually stimulating, it was rigorous, [and] it was one of the first experiences of my life [when] I realized that you get out of this activity what you put into it,” Landgraf said. “The more I would invest my time and interest in it, the more it was rewarding for me.”
The conference gives students an opportunity to experience the reality of serving the public through participation in government. Judge Pitman, a graduate of Abilene Christian University and the University of Texas School of Law, reflected on this aspect of his time in Youth & Government. “When you grow up and you hear what it must be like to be a lawyer or a state representative … it’s one thing to hear about it and to read about it, but it’s another thing to step on the floor in the House of Representatives and feel what it’s like to sit in the chair … to walk into a courtroom and for that moment to pretend like you’re a lawyer, or to sit on the bench and think, ‘Wow, this is what it must feel like to judge’ … That experience is something you cannot get anywhere else.”