Each year, East Mississippi Electric Power Association (EMEPA) sponsors high school juniors in its service territory on a tour of the nation’s capital. The Electric Cooperative Youth Tour has brought high school students to Washington, D.C., every June since the late 1950s, and more than 50,000 students from across America have experienced this unique opportunity. The Electric Cooperatives of Mississippi (ECM) has participated in the program for 32 years.
The tour gives the students an up-close view of the political process on a national level and connects them with like-minded students from across the state and nation. The relationships made on Youth Tour have proven to be beneficial throughout their lives. The Youth Tour is supported locally by EMEPA, organized statewide by ECM and nationally by the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (NRECA). More than 1,800 students from 42 states participate annually.
This year, Michaiah Bolar, Maya Clay, Lydia Palmer, Sierah Roberts and Shon Willis Jr., represented EMEPA. They joined 70 of Mississippi’s brightest juniors on the tour. They were chosen through an application and interview process. Michaiah is the daughter of Carl and Latricia Bickham of Collinsville and Michael and Veronica Bolar. She will be a senior at West Lauderdale High School. Maya will be a senior at Louisville High School. She is the daughter of Dante Clay-King and Walter King of Louisville. Lydia is the daughter of Jennifer and Stacy Palmer of Louisville and will be a senior at Grace Christian School. Sierah will be a senior at Lamar High School. She is the daughter of Steven and Regina Roberts of Meridian. Shon is the son of Alicia and Shontonia Willis, Sr. He will be a senior at Southeast Lauderdale High School.
On the weeklong trip, the students visited historical and cultural sites and a variety of monuments and memorials, such as the World War II Memorial, Korean War Memorial, FDR Memorial, Lincoln Memorial, Air Force Memorial, Jefferson Memorial and the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.
“Thank you for the experience. I am forever blessed to come through this program. Meeting new people that will forever have an impact on my life had to be my favorite part,” said Maya. “I was blessed with the opportunity to visit our nation’s capital. This experience makes me proud to be an American.”
One of the first stops on the tour was the Marine Corps War Memorial, informally known as the Iwo Jima, followed by visits to other monuments and memorials. The students visited numerous museums, such as the Newseum, a seven-floor, interactive museum dedicated to the first amendment rights and journalism throughout American history.
A new addition to the tour this year was a visit to the Holocaust Museum. The museum is a somber reflection of those who were lost during the Nazi regime. They also spent a day touring the Smithsonian Museums of Air and Space, American History, Natural History and the National Gallery of Art. Another popular event of the tour was a Major League Baseball game at Nationals Park. The students watched as the Washington Nationals took on the San Francisco Giants.
After a drive down Massachusetts Avenue, unofficially known as Embassy Row, the students were taken on a guided tour of the Washington National Cathedral, the second largest cathedral in the U.S.
In addition to sightseeing, the students also spent a day on Capitol Hill, which began with a special tour of the U.S. House Floor graciously hosted by Rep. Gregg Harper. While in the Capitol building, the students enjoyed a panoramic view of Washington, D.C., from the speaker’s balcony. Many of the students were able to meet House Speaker Paul Ryan, and Rep. Kevin McCarthy (CA). McCarthy spoke to the group after a news interview in the Capitol Rotunda.
After the tour, Maya and Lydia joined a smaller group to visit with Rep. Trent Kelly in his D.C. office, while Michaiah, Sierah and Shon visited with Rep. Gregg Harper in his office. The congressmen spoke to the groups about what it takes to be a leader and the importance of setting goals and striving to achieve them. During the visit to Capitol Hill, students also had the opportunity to meet with Sen. Roger Wicker and Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith.
“I formed so many bonds and met so many amazing leaders that I wouldn’t have met without this program,” said Michaiah. “The staff is absolutely amazing and the experience is one you will never forget. I am forever thankful for my new best friends, advisors, EMEPA, and this Youth Tour.”
EMEPA congratulates these students on their accomplishments.