A thank you to the YMCA

A thank you to the YMCA

Going through High School I participated in a multitude of youth programs by the YMCA and their effect on me has been life changing

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High school is the time for you to start the excruciating long process of finding out who you are, what kind of things interest you, what things that you can see yourself doing for the rest of your life. Some people figure this out by taking certain classes, others figure them out by being a part of extracurriculars. I found out what I wanted to do by joining extracurriculars. When I started high school, I thought I would eventually end up doing chemical engineering in college and in life. Now that I graduated, I have it set into my head that I will be doing public service for the greater portion of my life. This idea took several years, several conferences, several failures, to reach total fruition, but now I wouldn't have it any other way.

It all started with Youth In Government my sophomore year. I was just starting at a new high school, didn't know what to expect from my schedule, from my teachers, and I certainly didn't know what to expect for the next three years. My first day, my last class of the day, I had a class called Youth In Government. I walk into a sea of faces equally confused and lost as I was, which at the very least was slightly comforting. I took my seat with a good friend of mine, and unbeknownst to me, his girlfriend. That became our de-facto permanent seat for the semester. The teacher began talking of a trip to our State's capital in November, about the money we would have to pay, about writing a mock bill, about debating kids from across the state just like us. It was all a bit overwhelming at first and I didn't really know if it sounded like something I'd like. I was timid at that point, I did not like public speaking and I knew that if I did this I would have to do a lot of public speaking.

But I stuck with it, I wrote a bill about reducing sentences for first time non violent drug offenders, which at the time I thought was reasonable and that no one could poke any holes in it whatsoever. I practiced public speaking almost everyday in the class, and I grew a lot more comfortable with it. When it came time for the conference, I felt I was ready for whatever was to come.

The first night, a Wednesday we pull up to the convention center in Columbia, South Carolina after an almost three hour drive. We walk into a room with almost 1,400 kids chanting for their candidates, handing out stickers and buttons as if it were their sole purpose in life, or just aimlessly walking around like small puppies. I started to second guess my decision to come. We had a seemingly never ending opening ceremony that covered everything we needed to know about procedure, about scheduling and about the candidates running for office. Our school had to candidates running for office, one for Lt. Governor and another person running for Speaker of the House. When they went up to give their speeches, our school cheered at the top of our lungs. After they were all done with their speeches, we got back on our bus and head to the hotel we were staying at. I stayed up late with my roommates talking about what it would be like, what bills we were going to speak on, researching different issues that were in our committee and so on.

We got to committee the next day, and I saw our bill was 8th on the docket. For some reason it did not occur to me that in order for my bill to pass, I have to be nice to other people and their bills. So when the chair asked for a con speaker on the first bill, I raised my placard and I did my best to demolish the proposal as well as I could. Then I did this for the second, third, fourth, fifth, sixth, and then seventh bill. I spoke as many times as I possibly could because I wanted to make the most out of the experience, I wanted to be an outstanding statesmen. My fear of public speaking had gone away because I was speaking entirely from the heart and my mind and I was just kind of channeling my thoughts into words. My fear just evaporated. However, when I presented my bill, I did well, presented lots of facts, presented the reasons why my proposal would be helpful, etc. But because I had spoken so many times that day already and I was already notorious for speaking con, people were not a fan of me. Everyone wanted to speak con, no one wanted to speak pro. They had to randomly select someone to speak pro. Everyone thought that my bill would somehow manage to legalize drugs. It was painful to listen too. In my closing, in the two minutes granted to me, I ripped into their arguments as viciously as I possibly could. The anger on my face was clearly visible to everyone in the room. My bill failed with a vote 4-37. The four people who voted were my partner, myself, and two people who went to my school. I learned two critical things that day, people don't like a whole lot of facts, and that you always have to be political if you want something.

I went on to do Youth in Government the rest of my time in high school, I was leadership my second year and ran for a position, Comptroller General. I won and became South Carolina's first ever Youth Comptroller General just by using the slogan "Let's get Schmidt done!" and because of the fact I ran unopposed. I was able to attend the Conference on National Affairs with the South Carolina Delegation for a couple years, I was able to be a youth leader in the Y-Corps program, and I was able to be an appeals attorney in the National Judicial Competition, as well as participate in other leadership and values conferences. I did all of that in three years. Just by going to a program I was so afraid of for the longest time, I climbed the ranks to become a leader in that group in three years, and it takes most people four or more. In doing so, It taught my countless lessons and it showed me an unmatched dedication of our youth today to try and take this world we are given and to make it something better. No matter varying political opinions, time after time these kids keep coming together to argue the law, argue the issues that not only face our great state of South Carolina, but the issues that challenge our great country. It is eye opening to me, that while we are doing this, people are looking down on our generation, saying we don't do anything, that we don't have the drive to change this world. And all I have to say to people that say those things, is just you wait. Once these kids go off to college, join the workforce, almost everyday you'll see news stories of kids you once looked down upon doing amazing things. Inventing new technologies, green and life saving, passing new sensible legislation to save social security and to help people on welfare, negotiating deals, become lawyers and justices the likes of which no one has ever seen.

But on top of all of that, these programs mean so much more to me than that. In doing all these programs, in doing all of these things in high school, I learned countless things about myself, and I learned how to be the best me that I could possibly be. In doing these programs I was given a large nexus of friends all across the state and all across the country. In doing these programs I developed a sense of self-confidence and self worth that I could never seem to find before. In doing these programs I learned that my voice does matter. I advocate for these programs with the full extent of my heart because I know the good they can do first hand. When I first joined the Youth In Government program, I was shy, I didn't have many friends, I had a severe lack of self confidence, I was even kind of mean. Now, I radiate confidence, I have countless friends that I can turn to whenever I need something and I always have a smile on my face. It taught me about life, and that in order to go far you must always be political, people don't like to feel less than, people don't like to feel attacked, people like to feel like people, and these programs foster the communication skills necessary to actually communicate about the pressing issues of our day. I owe these programs my world today, and I couldn't imagine what high school would have been like if I had never found this niche. Without the people at the YMCA in our state, but across the nation, these types of programs could never happen, and so many kids would never find their niche, and for that, I would like to say thank you, for all you've done for me, for my friends and for countless others, it means the world.

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Happy National Adoption Month

November is National Adoption Month, and it just so happens to be the month I was adopted!

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If you didn't know, November is National Adoption Month! It's extra special too because November happens to be the actual month I was adopted! In honor of National Adoption Month, I wanted to share my adoption story.

When I was little, my mom used to read me a book called Horace. The children's book was about a cheetah cub who had been adopted by two tigers. Every night when his mom tucked him into bed, she would tell him "we chose when you were a tiny baby because you lost your family and needed a new one. We liked your spots and wanted you to be our child." (Keller 1991) Horace, the cheetah cub, always fell asleep before his mom could finish his adoption story. Horace feels out of place - he loves his mom and dad but wonders where he came from, so he goes on an adventure to find where he came from.

I have never felt like Horace. I am the only African-American in my family, yet I have never felt out of place. I have never not felt loved and accepted by my family. I have always known this family is my family, and exactly where God wanted me to be. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

I have what is called a closed adoption. What this means is, I do not have direct contact with my birth parents. When I turned 18, I was allowed to reach out to Bethany Christian Services, which is the agency I was adopted through, to attempt to meet my birth parents. However, 23 years later, and I have yet to do so. But I will get to why later.

Before I came around. My mom, Constance, had a very difficult pregnancy with my big sister Kathryn. My sister Kate turned out healthy and gorgeous! But her doctors advised her to consider things strongly if she wanted to have another child. My mom and dad both wanted another child, but they kept this in mind. Both my mom and my dad Gary felt called to adopt.

If you are not familiar with how adoption works, first a disclaimer: every story is different! So I am not stating that this is exactly how it works each time, I can only speak to the process my parents went through. For them, my parents were interviewed by Bethany Christian, and then their information was sent to many different people who were seeking to put their children up for adoption. My parents did not specify gender, race, ethnicity, etc. Typically, you do not know who is interested in you until further down the line. My sister was five years old at the time of my adoption. Before I was born, my sister started to pray "Dear God, please let my little sister or brother arrive here safely. Amen." My parents were pretty confused... while they were going through the process of adoption, they had not been selected to be parents yet, let alone would they have told my sister she was for sure getting a sibling. My parents would say "Kate, mom isn't pregnant! You aren't getting a little brother or sister." She would reply "Yes we are. God told me so just trust me." Closer to my birth, my sister decided she definitely wanted a sister. She even then described what I would look like. And she started to give me a name: Anna.

Finally, my parents got the call that they were going to be parents again. My birth mom had met my parents once during the interview process. She said she picked my parents because my mom resembled my birth mom - both are blonde-haired, blue-eyed, and fair skinned. When my parents came to meet me for the first time, I fit the exact description my sister had been praying for - and although I did not have a name, they knew right away that I would be Anna, just as my sister had decided.

I was born on November 11th, 1995, and I was born with a staph infection. This kept me in the hospital for eleven days. Once I was healthy enough to go home, my parents brought me home on November 21st. While I look different from my family and I am not their biological daughter, I have never questioned my place in their family. I love my family so very much. My adoption is the biggest blessing of my life, and every single day I feel so lucky that I get to call my family mine.

Adoption is such a gift, and it is a true sacrifice for those who choose to give their children a better life. This month honors those in need of adoption, those who have adopted, and those who have been adopted. It is such a special thing to be a part of that. I know my parents love my "spots" and I love their stripes. To those who were adopted, Happy National Adoption Month. Share your stories - they are special and so are you.

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Should We Consider Nuclear Energy?

Nuclear energy poses an interesting opportunity for the United States, but it also poses difficult questions.

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Currently, the United States is the greatest producer of nuclear energy, making up about 30% of worldwide nuclear energy production. We have 99 nuclear reactors produced 805-kilowatt hours in 2017, which is 19.7% of our total electrical output. Almost all of this power generation comes from reactors built between 1967 and 1990, and up until 2013, the country had not begun construction on a power plant since 1977. After the Three Mile Island disaster in 1979, much of the construction was postponed or pushed to a later date due to strong opposition and skepticism of the benefit of nuclear energy. Currently, there are plans for lots of new reactors, but no more than 2 will be active before 2021.

But despite all this, the course of nuclear energy is still difficult at best. The world of ever-changing regulations safety regulation poses a difficult problem for construction companies because it often leads to construction stalls, cancelations, design alterations and so on. This spikes up costs exponentially for private companies which makes it uneconomical about nuclear energy for the time being. The only agency to complete the building of a reactor in the past 20 years has been a government corporation, the Tennessee Valley Authority. There may be dozens of new reactors up for licensing by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, but only four are actually in the process of construction. Two of the projects are in Georgia and two are in South Carolina, but all of the projects have experienced delays and skyrocketing costs. These projects are more than three years late and a few billions of dollars over their budget and pushed Westinghouse, and it's parent, Toshiba, to the brink of financial ruin.

The benefits of nuclear energy are simply undeniable when you look at the figures. Only 99 reactors produce nearly 20 percent of our electricity, while almost 617 coal plants produce nearly 50 percent. That is quite impressive when taken into account that the process of electrical generation for nuclear reactors produces no carbon dioxide and coal produces more than energy source, as well as the fact that burning coal also releases dangerous impurities, such as Mercury, into the atmosphere. Furthermore, nuclear power plants produce energy 91 percent of the time, compared to other sources of clean energy, such as wind. These things are important to consider as we look to the future. Although electrical demand has slowed down for a few years, it is estimated that electrical demand will go up by 5,000 kWh per person. It is estimated by the former governor of New Jersey, and member of the Case Energy Coalition, Christine Todd Whitman that in order to even maintain the 20 percent figure that the United States would have to build anywhere between 25 to 30 new nuclear reactors. This doesn't seem like many, but given the immense amount of time and money that go into building these plants, it is unlikely that we could maintain that level of energy production. Even further, she estimates that in order to meet the goals for greenhouse gas emissions that we'd have to build 187 new nuclear power plants by 2050. This is daunting, given the current state of United States regulations on nuclear energy and the building of power plants but if policies are changed, this could be done.

When looked at from an economic perspective, this could be a great thing for jobs, especially in the South where unemployment and nuclear are typically more common. Whitman says that the building of nuclear power plants can bring in lots of revenue, as much as 430 million for just one reactor. She also projects that the building of the reactor can bring anywhere between 1,200 to 4,000 jobs and manning the plant can bring anywhere between 400 and 700 jobs. This would also bring higher tech jobs as well, as being a nuclear engineer is not something anyone could do, and could possibly expand economic growth in smaller communities.

In early 2015, more than 65 biologists wrote an open letter to Brave New Climate blog about their belief that nuclear energy is the way to the future. They list several reasons as to why they believe, the first is that it saves space. Many other forms of clean and non-renewable energy take up a lot of space in terms of land and this has many effects on local biodiversity levels. Nuclear power plants take up very little space comparatively, but they also take much longer to construct than other methods and this can outweigh the benefits of the compactness. Second, they say that we must embrace a mix of energy sources if we are to reduce the release of carbon dioxide emissions from the burning of fossil fuels. The other sources of clean energy are too variable, or not well enough developed to rely entirely on them. Nuclear energy, however, produces lots more energy and can be built practically anywhere, and not just in windy areas, or sunny areas, or so on. This is why nuclear energy must be considered they argue.

There are serious costs of nuclear energy, however. Like I made clear earlier, the process for establishing a power plant usually takes about twenty years and if we truly want to cut carbon dioxide emissions, nuclear energy won't help us anytime soon. Second, is the radioactive waste that these power plants produce. Nuclear waste has an approximate half-life of 100,000 years, leaving it to just sit and radiate extremely harmful radiation. In order to store this waste, high-tech facilities have to be built to simply hold the waste and stop it from contaminating the life around it.

If handled wrong, the waste could potentially devastate entire ecosystems, communities, and ways of life, and this doesn't include the immense potential costs of health concerns if said waste is handled wrong. Third, is the relative cost of nuclear energy, Amory Lovins has calculated that ten cents invested in nuclear energy could generate 1 kWh of electricity, 1.2-1.7 kWh of wind energy, 6.6-22 kWh of Cogeneration, and 10 kWh of energy efficiency. These calculations call into the question of whether nuclear energy is truly a smart investment or not especially since the developed economies are showing signs of slower economic growth.

Fourth, the estimated reserves of uranium are already small, estimated at 60 years left of uranium. If the whole world switched to nuclear energy there would be about three years left of uranium. While this is incredibly extreme, it shows that this way of energy production wouldn't last forever. Lastly, the mining and building of nuclear power plants can bring lots of damage to ecosystems as the erection of mining sites and plants not only increases carbon dioxide emissions but also destroys local environments for a long time. As the world runs out of more and more uranium, the costs associated with building and mining go up and more and more mining operations will have to be built, which threatens ecosystems everywhere.

These concerns don't necessarily count out nuclear energy, they just necessitate further research and further consideration of the trade-offs present. On one side, they provide a strong way to produce lots and lots of energy, but they also bring lots of hidden costs and concerns. These concerns are very different than the concerns brought on by fossil fuels, which may be part of the reason why people remain afraid of nuclear energy.

But, however shocking, nuclear energy is the least deadly form of energy per kWh, even beating out wind power, a study found. This gives us a lot to consider as we look to the future, but I think it is safe to say, that despite the concerns, that nuclear energy has the potential to be a great addition to the American economy and may help us stay valid as we move into the new global world. Research is still needed, and policies need to be changed as new research is done, but there is a strong possibility that our future holds nuclear energy.

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