I was not prepared last Thursday for the life changing experience that stood before me as I traveled to Illinois State Capitol for Model Illinois Government. I began my journey to Springfield with seventeen of my fellow classmates on behalf of Western Illinois University. I was not sure what to expect from a weekend filled with political discussions with a bunch of students who had previously studied Political Science.
During the whirlwind of activities and valuable networking, I quickly realized how impactful Model Illinois Government is for the students of Illinois. The experience opened my eyes to the educational value that M.I.G. has provided. It has given those with a desire to be involved in politics the chance to flourish in an empowering and respectful environment.
In early February, my best-friend asked me to participate in this yearly event. The simulation takes place over a three day period, accurately replicating the legislative process of our Illinois Government. Students from over 20 different colleges and universities traveled to the capitol to partake and serve as delegates for this extremely unique experience. In fact, there are only a few states that even offer students a government simulation opportunity. None are the size of Model Illinois Government, according to Kyle Brodnick the Attorney General of the simulation.
Executive board members such as, Governor, Secretary of State, Comptroller, Chief Justice, Lieutenant Governor, Speaker of the House, President of the Senate and Attorney General, are elected for simulation roles and are responsible for leading and orchestrating activities during the simulation. Students are also assigned roles such as, legislator, lawyer, lobbyist, journalist, and many more. Students are broken down into their respective parties, Democrat or Republican. Months of preparation are spent reading, writing, and studying bills that will be debated on the floor of the capitol during the few days spent at M.I.G.
Let me start with saying, I know nothing about politics. Absolutely nothing, nor do I enjoy discussing politics with anyone. So my first response was, “absolutely not.” I would not subject myself to uncomfortable, awkward, and judgmental conversation all weekend. But, my best-friend convinced me and offered me the position to serve as a journalist for the Attorney General.
My responsibilities would be to observe and write for the weekend newspaper at M.I.G,The Journal. I decided, “why not?” I could attend and represent WIU in a professional manner. I could put my writing skills to use and provide the M.I.G. organization with objective journalism. Something it had not seen in previous years.
Thursday evening key-note speaker Avery Bourne and executive board members quickly set the tone for the rest of the weekend. Bourne gave an inspiring message to all the passionate and youthful students. Bourne emphasized how crucial Bipartisanship and compromise are in fixing problems within the state of Illinois.
She explained that despite millennials bad reputation, they are the voice of change. She especially emphasized the importance of woman running for office. She explained that it takes it takes women 10 times if they will run for office before they even consider it. Bourne’s message gave me an inspiring message that I have yet to forget since my experience at M.I.G.
Shakana Kirksey, M.I.G’s new governor, also set expectations, in regards to attitude, high for delegates this year. She deemed that under no circumstance would anyone be rude or disrespectful to others. She reiterated that the arguments were to be left on the chamber floors and we would all remain respectful of one another. In all aspects of M.I.G, we were reminded to represent our people in the utmost respect.
The new people we met, described by the Executive board members, are your new found family in a world that seems to suck you in. As I listened to these words being spoke, I knew I could not be one of those people. However, I am here to tell you how wrong I was. I find myself with more than twenty new Facebook friends and my eyes opened to a whole other world. My mom answered a call with saying, “Where have you been? Has the political world taken you in too?!” My response was, “Mom I’ve made so many friends, and you know that’s hard for me!”
Proudly, I can say that yes, I have joined the political world thanks to the people at Model Illinois Government. I was a new and unfamiliar face that walked with them under the 150 year old, stained-glass dome and through the chambers doors of the House and Senate. They graciously welcomed me into their home as they taught me how our government makes decisions on our behalf. I was given the opportunity to have a hands-on learning experience of the legislative process and how it feels to be a politician fighting for the rights of the American people.
I walk away from Model Illinois Government with the belief that anyone and everyone, especially millennials, can benefit from this experience. Not only does it allow students to observe the legislative process, it gives us the opportunity to comfortably speak on issues we are passionate about. It teaches us how good it feels to be taken seriously when we dress, speak, and act professionally amongst our peers. It gives us the opportunity to truly realize we are the generation of change.
Victoria Hall is a student at Western Illinois University and writer for The Western Courier.