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.