What is Youth Legislature?
Last updated: September 14, 2021, at 10:33 a.m. PT
Originally published: September 3, 2021, at 11:58 a.m. PT
The Y’s Youth & Government (YAG) program has inspired generations of young people to cultivate their passion for advocacy and uphold the principles of American democracy. In Washington, YAG has been active for almost 75 years and continues to make a profound impact on hundreds of students, and their communities, throughout the state.
Delegates work during the fall and winter to research, develop, and refine original bills before proposing their ideas on Olympia’s House and Senate floors in May. Then, during the long-awaited legislative session, students engage in rigorous debate and witness first hand how the government operates. Delegates also get the opportunity to connect with peers who will challenge their positions and cheer them on for the next four, fleeting days. Despite the brief time spent at the capitol, YAG’s close community environment still makes space for everyone to grow comfortable grappling with unfamiliar perspectives. This is more pressing than ever for young people coming of age in today’s political climate, and YAG precisely exemplifies the culture of fierce, yet healthy disagreement that is so crucial for the future of democracy in this nation.
To enhance the civic experience, annual elections, facilitated by fair elections commissioners, also provide an avenue for passionate delegates to bolster their leadership and public speaking skills. Elections give students the power to be the change they want to see, and also emphasizes the importance of voting to high schoolers who will be approaching voting age quickly. Similarly, lobbyists, pages, and a press corps also work to make the legislature come to life by enabling delegates to explore alternative interests while still delving deeper into the world of government and politics.
From a delegate’s perspective, what makes YAG such a remarkable experience is not only the skills and experiences gained through participation, it is also the many meaningful friendships that are forged through collaboration and shared enthusiasm. While delegates only get 5 years in YAG, the memories made and the values learned will all contribute to a lifelong devotion to community and democracy.