It’s unusual to find a group of teenagers who would rather spend their Saturday morning engaging with a state representative on America’s military strategy in the Pacific Arena than sitting at home, watching T.V. This Saturday and Sunday, November 15 and 16, over 400 Orange County high school students came together to debate, discuss, and learn at the Junior State of America’s Fall State Orange County convention. They debated issues dealing with ideology versus practicality, the theme of the weekend, and heard keynote speeches from both Congressman Ed Royce (Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee) and UCLA professor Vanessa Tyson.
Students from 26 high schools primarily from Orange County attended the convention. Participating schools included Aliso Niguel High, Canyon High, Corona Del Mar High, Irvine High, Mater Dei High, Orange County School of the Arts, Tarbut V’ Torah High, Servite High, Sunny Hills High, Troy High and Valencia High, among several others.
The students didn’t just listen to lectures about policy and its implementation — in JSA, the students are fully engaged in every aspect of the convention. The keynote speeches were an interactive affair with students asking questions about the speakers’ political stances and philosophies. Congressman Royce remarked afterwards that “the fun part was teh question and answer session. The students asked very good questions and were very knowledgeable about current issues.”
Throughout the weekend, the students debated and discussed topics ranging from the quality of America’s prison system to America’s relationship with Russia. The convention allowed JSA members to show that young people are engaged and strong opinions on the issues facing our society. In a simulation of the Supreme Court case Elonis vs United States, student justices determined with a five-to-four vote that first amendment protections apply to posts on social media sites. Students voted for mandatory school uniforms and against the utilization of federal money to further the war on drugs, along with many other decisions that traversed party and ideological lines.
Both principle and pragmatism were fought for in these debates that ended on Sunday afternoon after two long and rewarding days of discourse.