It was a time to listen, advocate, and better understand how one of Georgia’s defining governmental processes works.
Thomas County Central High School sent a 38-member delegation to the Georgia Youth Legislative Assembly Nov. 26-28. They joined more than 500 students from around the state in debating, amending, and passing legislation drafted by assembly participants.
“We had delegates assigned to the House of Representatives, the Senate, and as lobbyists,” sponsor and TCCHS teacher Justin Amaro said. “Our students performed extremely well this year. All of them participated in legislative committees on some level, whether they debated bills, authored amendments, or engaged in discussion pertinent to today's issues and events.”
The Georgia Center for Civic Engagement organizes and administers Youth Assembly. It’s open to student delegations from high schools around the state.
“They experience a simulated version of what it is to participate in government at the state level,” Amaro said. “TCCHS and the local board have prioritized this experience for our students because they get a high and genuine understanding of the legislative process that cannot be replicated in the classroom.”
Thomas County students who received special honors and recognitions include Ethan Mainprize, Conner Marsh, Braxton White and Andre Williams. These accolades ranged from chairing committees to authoring passed legislation and earning awards for performance to winning the highest position available to student participants.
Sophomore Andre Williams Jr. won the honor of serving as the Georgia Youth Lieutenant Governor for 2024. The entire assembly listens to the delegates’ speeches and votes on the winner.
“When I won, I was completely shocked that over 500 students at this event voted for me to become the next lieutenant governor of Georgia,” Williams said. “When I won, the victory was so sweet. When the audience started clapping and shouting my name, all I could do was wave and thank them for supporting me. This meant to me that everyone thought that I was the change that they have been waiting for ….”
Williams said his advisors highly recommended he run for the office, so he took their advice and ran with it.
“I'm grateful for them for believing in me and encouraging me to run for this position because they could’ve chosen anyone else for this job and to represent this school, but they chose me, and I will always be grateful for them,” he said.
Williams’ duties will include running the Senate and ensuring delegates follow proper procedures. For example, he gets to hit his gavel and make announcements such as “The floor is not open for debate” and to alert delegates they are out of order because they did not follow protocol. He expects his favorite saying to be, “Shall this bill pass?”
He hopes to illustrate the truth of former president Barack Obama’s words about not waiting for change and how it starts with the individual, which he incorporated into his speech.
“I used these words in my speech because if I want to make a change, I just can't wait,” Williams said. “I have to do it if I put my mind to it. This is the type of impact I want on people. I want people to know that I am the person about change and putting yourself out there. I’m here for the people of Georgia. That’s why my speech was about change.”
Tenth-grader Conner Marsh was one of 12 participants named a committee chairman. He chaired Senate Committee Six.
“A committee chair essentially just organizes the committee and keeps it in order,” Marsh said. “The most interesting lesson I learned from YA was to keep confidence while speaking. I noticed when I was confident, I could run through all the motions fluidly.”
Senior Ethan Mainprize attended the assembly to engage in debate with other youth. He authored legislation that passed the House and Senate and got signed by the youth governor.
Amaro said YA produced approximately 275 bill submissions. Of that number, delegates debated 48, and less than half got signed into law. Mainprize’s bill proposed protecting Georgians’ data online and cybersecurity fundamentals education for students.
“Cyber attacks have been more prevalent in recent times, and it is important to consider the security of users' data,” Mainprize said. “It is also important for the students of Georgia to learn the fundamentals of cybersecurity, so they have a basic understanding of the topic and understand what can steal their data.”
Authoring a bill that passed, especially about an essential issue in 21st-century society, and having a voice matters to Mainprize.
“It feels good to know that something I have been passionate about for a long time, and something that has been a very important topic in recent times, was taken seriously,” he said. “It is also a good feeling to know that students have the ability to have a voice in government.”
Senior Braxton White received the Best Lobbyist award. He expressed surprise over his win because there were many talented lobbyists at the event.
“It's an honor to me because it shows that the hard work that I put into my arguments was effective, and they paid off,” White said. “At first, I was worried that my lack of experience would cause difficulties, but I soon adapted to the lobbying process.”
White attended YA to learn more about governmental procedures through hands-on experience. Trying lobbying helped him leave his comfort zone while expanding his knowledge and engaging in a personal passion: communication through debating bills and sharing information.
“Lobbyists work for companies and interest groups to influence policymaking,” he said. “They can't vote or amend bills, so their only mode of influence is through debate and conversation.
“To win the Best Lobbyist award, I went into committees where bills were being debated and did my best to deliver a speech that swayed the delegates to vote for or against a bill. I had a limit on how long my speech was, so I had to find the best way to present the facts to the delegates while remaining concise.”
Now, the TCCHS delegation looks toward the future. For one, Williams can’t wait to start his term as youth lieutenant governor and wants his peers to know he takes his responsibilities seriously.
“Serving you is not a job; it's a privilege that I am now a part of, and I thank you all for that,” he said. “I am the change that will keep Georgia on my mind. I plan on utilizing this position for a positive impact by showing people that if you want to do something … you can do it.”
And Amaro has high hopes for future TCCHS YA delegations.
“Of the time I have sponsored this event, our students were the most active I have seen,” he said. “I see a high level of enthusiasm for our delegation to grow and become more sophisticated in how the legislative process works and how the legislative assemblies are conducted.”