Paeton W. 2019 Oklahoma Youth Tour Delegate
When prospective delegates think about the Rural Electric Cooperative Youth Tour trip to Washington, D.C., they probably think of the glamour of it. They might think of the plane ride and the gorgeous monuments that take your breath away when viewed in-person. Maybe they think of the exclusive tours or the one-on-one time that many students get with their state’s elected officials. Maybe they even think of the food. There was definitely great food! Some may even simply think of it as a resume booster. When I was applying for Youth Tour, all of these aspects crossed my mind.
What I didn’t think of, though, and what I cherish the most, is the growth and friendships I gained from just about a week in our nation’s capital.
I would never call myself quiet. It was just never something that I have been. I’ve always been an advocate – standing up for what is right and calling for change where it’s needed. In high school, I was on my school’s student board, a council put together to review policies and give a student perspective before they were implemented in the school. But, even with that, I was in my principal’s office often, trying to amend thing. He noticed that many of the things I wanted to change were at the state level. So, he gave me a seat on Oklahoma’s State Superintendent Joy Hofemeister’s Student Advisory board and helped put me in a position where I could truly could make a difference.
So like I said, I have never been shy about speaking up for what I believe in. But I was shy about putting myself out there. I was scared to try for anything big for a fear of failure. It was easy to try to do things for other people, but when I was the only one who would gain or lose something, all that confidence and drive went away. I was the same way with making friends. The thought of going up to new people and potentially facing rejection was just as terrifying to me as the idea of failing.
Something else that you should know about me is that I’ve loved history since I was a kid. I think it probably started with The Magic Treehouse books. And, at the age of sixteen, I already had a bucket list. One of the items on that list was to go to Washington D.C. (and to Philadelphia, but we’re still working on that one) and see some of our nation’s history in person. So, when my English teacher, Mrs. Self, encouraged my entire class to apply, it immediately caught my eye. But, I noticed it also caught the eye of many other students in my A.P. class, and that the essay topic was over something I had never heard of. I immediately discounted myself with thoughts like “I’ll never get it” or “there are so many better applicants, why bother.”
Then, about a week before Youth Tour, I convinced myself to try. And I did. I worked hard on my essay, harder than I had ever done on a written assignment before. I hit submit three minutes before the deadline. Not long after, I found out that I was selected as a finalist, and instead of excitement or confidence, a new panic set in. I was going to have to convert my essay to a speech, and give it to a panel of experts who were going to ask me questions after…in front of everyone…including the other finalists. I tried giving the speech to my mom once, after I had practiced alone enough to feel like I was ready, and I realized then that I was far from ready. But, that fear of failure actually gave me some drive. I knew I didn’t want to fail in front of the expert judges, and definitely not in front of the finalist, three of which were my classmates.
So, I put in work. I recorded myself doing my speech and listened to it instead of music. I researched methods of memorization used by professional speakers and implemented them. I combed through my cooperative’s website, memorized statistics, and spent hours working on motions and verbal cues and facial expressions. I met with one of my teachers every day after school leading up to the contest, and he even continued to meet with me over spring break to help me practice. I even went out and bought a suit.
When the day finally came, I gave my speech, not without flaw, but I gave it and I gave it well. And I was selected as one of our delegates. I cannot express how much this boosted my confidence and I later found that I had become passionate about the topic that had seemed so daunting before. I felt ready to take on the world, and when Youth Leadership Council applications went out, I decided to apply without hesitation.
…I put in work. I recorded myself doing my speech and listened to it instead of music. I researched methods of memorization used by professional speakers and implemented them… I cannot express how much this boosted my confidence
The next few months went by agonizingly slow, until the week before Youth Tour. In that week, the same panic from before set in when I realized I didn’t truly know anyone on the trip. I expected it to be like high school, with quick cliques forming and exclusivity. I can honestly say that Youth Tour was the opposite. I got there, and felt so at home. I felt like I could truly be myself, and the environment was entirely different. I even sent those exact words to a loved one back home while on the trip. I actually messaged a few of the other delegates before we went on the trip, and was putting myself out there. And, it was on Youth Tour, that I met some of my closest friends, and two that I would consider best friends. Not just the kind of friends you call and hang out with every now and again, but the kind of friends that will be in your wedding party one day and that your future children will call “aunt” or “uncle.”
I expected it to be like high school, with quick cliques forming and exclusivity. I can honestly say that Youth Tour was the opposite.
While Youth Tour was all the things that I listed off before, it was more than just a trip. For me, it was during Youth Tour that I realized my full potential and the extent of my capabilities when I apply myself. I attribute many of my accolades to the confidence and drive that Youth Tour gave me. And, it was also during Youth Tour, that I gained some extra family.