by Andrew Ma
Three states opened up their JSA year with a fantastic start on the second weekend in November. The events definitely captured the “winds of change,” theme of Fall State and many new initiatives that were being put in motion for the first time were greatly successful. Fall State for all three states excited delegates with individual innovations that will enhance JSA conventions years to come. The governors — Matt Saunders of the Southern California State, Jared Odessky of the Southeast Territory, and Raja Gupta of the Ohio River Valley State — worked extremely hard with their respective cabinets to make their first state conventions educational, inspiring and fun. Highlights included spirited keynote addresses, creative new activities and thought-provoking debates.
The Southern California State held the first of two Fall State conventions (Orange County and Los Angeles) with novel changes and ideas. U.S. Rep. Loretta Sanchez (D-Garden Grove, Calif.) addressed the delegates with an energetic speech, setting the dynamic atmosphere of the convention. Angeles Region Mayor Jeremy Cynamon said, “She delivered an exceptionally passionate speech that explained the nuances of working in government and painted the profession in realistic light. It really was a pleasure listening to her.”
The Southern California Technology Department introduced some vast improvements to the convention. The regular paper agenda was within digital reach with Southern California’s new online agenda, accessible to anyone with Internet on his or her phone. Tucker Higgins, SoCal’s Director of Technology, said, “I wanted our new website and SoCal’s tech overall to be great this year. … We have been aiming our focus on technology, and Fall State is a great sign of success so far.”
The Southern California Debate Department added an extraordinary new activity to the convention — competitive debates. The competitive debates, judged by enthusiastic teacher/advisors, are debates graded on quality of rhetoric and speech. The “best speaker” of these debates is not chosen by vote of the audience, but rather by the teacher/advisor who judges each of the individuals’ who participate. Tracy Poindexter, Southern California’s program director, said that the program “went flawlessly thanks to all the hard work.”
New changes were also seen in the Ohio River Valley Junior State. The convention continued with great efficiency and students got personal insights on one of the closest races in Ohio’s political history. The closing speaker was Mike Wilson from the Cincinnati Tea Party, who ran against incumbent State Rep. Connie Pillich (D-Blue Ash, Ohio). The votes for the Ohio General Assembly race were still flowing in at the time of the speech, when Wilson was behind by only five votes (Pillich ultimately won by 602 votes). The exciting midterm elections passed the baton of energy and change to the Junior State, and the ORV exemplified a new level of vigor in its state convention. Rachel Zupan, ORV JSAer and also National Chief of Staff, said: “Fall State 2010 was by far the most exciting convention I’ve ever been to. It was very well organized by Gov. Raja Gupta and the ORV Cabinet and everything was well planned!”
With the new Harry Potter movie premiering last Friday, ORV JSAers participated in an intense and fun game of “quidditch” after a long day of debates. Delegates competed against each other in teams, much like in the popular teen-hit movie, trying to score points not by flying on mystical broomsticks but rather running around in the game arena.
The Southeast Territory brought many innovative changes to its Fall State as well, centering on a theme of civic engagement and political involvement. Conor Rogers, who himself was an active JSA member and currently the CEO of R&M Political Group and the editor-in-chief of the Politicizer, was the opening speaker who gave the delegates insight into getting politically involved. Rogers encouraged JSA members to make the most of political opportunities in high school and proclaimed, “JSA helped me greatly in becoming who I am now. The political experience I gained from this program is immense.”
But Rogers did not leave after giving his inspiring speech. He joined Franklin Sands, minority leader in the Florida House of Representatives (D-Plantation, Fla.), Sophia Otfinoski, volunteer from the Ron Klein for Congress campaign (and a JSA member at Alex Dreyfoos School of the Arts) and Neil Harreveld, executive director for government relations for Tower Capitol Management, in a panel session on “Politics and New Media.” These experts in the field of digital and social media provided insightful thoughts about the recent elections and the future of campaigns. Demonstrating the ins and outs of a media-driven society, the professionals interacted with the Junior Statesmen to provide a potent window to the trade.
Southeast convention delegates got more deeply involved in the real world of politics with a “Letter Writing Block” in which JSA students discussed hot issues such as gay marriage and education reform and then wrote letters to senators and congressmen. The letters were then mailed by the Southeast Junior State to the respective offices. Furthermore, they held a “Penny Wars” fundraiser to benefit the Marine Toys for Tots to help underprivileged kids. SET Gov. Jared Odessky said, “This was the most successful and innovative convention the Southeast Territory has ever seen. From passionate debates centered around the convention theme to spirited activism that included both civic engagement and charitable fundraisers. I could not be prouder of the strides the Southeast has made this year.”