April 06, 2011

11th Youth Government Day set in Springfield

by Pete Rosenbery

CARBONDALE, Ill. -- Two of the nation's young elected leaders will offer their insights into politics and community service Saturday, April 9, at the 11th annual Youth Government Day, sponsored by Southern Illinois University Carbondale's Paul Simon Public Policy Institute.

Illinois state Rep. Jehan A. Gordon, D-Peoria, and Justin Nickels, mayor of Manitowoc, Wis., will speak to approximately 200 high school students from across the state at the Illinois State Capitol in Springfield.

Media Advisory

Reporters, photographers and camera crews are welcome to cover any and all events of this year’s Youth Government Day. For more information, contact Matt Baughman, associate director of the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute, at 618/201-0082 or by email at baughman@siu.edu.

The goal is to inspire students to explore careers in government, public policy, politics and related fields.

The late Institute founder and U.S. Sen. Paul Simon, D-Illinois, started Youth Government Day to acquaint Illinois high school students with state government and politics, said David Yepsen, Institute director. Young political leaders speak to the students to discuss how they can have an impact in their community and on the political process, Yepsen said.

“It’s one thing to talk about it in a classroom, it’s an entirely different experience to actually visit the state capitol and see where it happens,” Yepsen said. “Students are given access to the House floor, the Senate floor, courtrooms and committee rooms. At each station, volunteers who work at the capitol talk about what happens in each chamber and allow them to cast votes on the voting machines.”

Yepsen said the most popular question students ask when in the Illinois Senate is where President Barack Obama sat while serving in that chamber from 1997 to 2004.

“For those of us who visit Springfield often a visit to the capitol becomes routine, but to a high school student making that first visit it can be a powerful invitation to get involved in politics and public life,” he said.

Gordon is serving her second term in the Illinois House after initially winning election in 2008 when she was 27. Gordon served on the Pleasant Hill School Board and previously worked at Bradley University’s Small Business Development Center. She earned her bachelor’s degree from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Gordon spoke at last year’s event.

Nickels is serving his first term as mayor of Manitowoc, Wis., a town of more than 35,000, along Lake Michigan in eastern Wisconsin. Elected in 2009 when he was 22 years old, Nickels’ political experience began four years earlier when he defeated a 16-year incumbent to win a city council seat, while still a high school senior and part-time grocery store clerk. He twice won re-election, and became city council president. Nickels graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Manitowoc in 2008, where he was student body president while earning a bachelor’s degree in public administration.

The schedule is:

  • 9 a.m. -- Welcoming remarks, David A. Yepsen, director, Paul Simon Public Policy Institute. Howlett Building Auditorium.
  • 9:05 a.m. -- Keynote speaker, Justin Nickels, mayor, Manitowoc, Wis.
  • 10:15 a.m. -- Tours of the Illinois State Capitol, including breakout sessions using legislators’ desks in the Senate and House chambers.
  • 1 p.m. -- Keynote speaker, state Rep. Jehan A. Gordon, D-Peoria. Howlett Building Auditorium.
  • 2 p.m. -- Closing remarks, and independent tours of the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum.

For more information on this or other Institute programs, contact the Institute at 618/453-4009, or visit http://www.paulsimoninstitute.org.