What is 4-H Capitol Experience? The name does not do it justice!

In this article, a 15-year-old Livingston County 4-H'er describes how attendance at the 2012 4-H Capitol Experience changed her life.

 “What is 4-H Capitol Experience?” I was asked this question countless times before I attended the conference and just as many times since attending. While the event’s name is generic, the event is anything but - at least not for young adults looking to meet some amazing people, gain a closer look at the inner workings of Michigan’s government and have a ton of fun doing it. During the four-day conference, groups assemble into smaller issue groups focused on a specific interest of their choice. For example, my group was “Jobs and the Economy.” Each issue group discussed a possible problem and a “bill” to fix it. Then the issue groups traveled to meet with lobbyists and other people who would better understand the concern being addressed. We also had breakfast with our representative and senator to discuss our mock bills. Throughout the experience, every moment was jam packed with things to do, places to go and for me, it was an experience that was truly life changing.

By attending 4-H Capitol Experience, I gained an appreciation for civic involvement. The majority of people vote, then say they are unhappy with the outcome, but ultimately they just live with it. What many do not realize is that they can make a difference. A lobbyist, East Lansing’s planning director, Senator Joe Hune and Representative Cindy Denby all told me similar stories: If you open your mouth and say something you can influence our government. Now, no matter what, I will not let decisions go by without first saying something about them.

The importance of research is something else that became clear to me while attending Capitol Experience. A handful of the issue groups concluded that their issue had already been solved and they were simply unaware of it. Other groups realized that passing their mock bill would cause serious problems for another industry. We all learned that no matter what, you cannot just rush into things without first doing some research, a skill that will prove invaluable in the rest of our lives.

An additional skill that became very apparent to me during this experience was to respect other people’s opinions. Whether we liked it or not, we had to face each group and introduce our mock bill with levelheadedness because in a few hours these people would be voting on the bill in our mock Senate and House of Representative sessions. We learned just how important it was, as we watched other issue group’s bills fail to pass.

Perhaps the most lasting aspect of the conference was the sense of direction it gave me. Before going to Capitol Experience, I had no idea what I wanted to do for a career or how to get there. Nor did I know just how many different paths I could take to reach a career in government, something that had interested me in the past. Now, I know I would like to do something connected with our government and I know what general steps I must take to get there.

All in all, Capitol Experience far outdoes its somewhat boring name. It is a life-changing experience, one I will remember fondly for the rest of my life and I hope more teens will attend. The skills I learned will last a lifetime. I highly encourage any and all teens with even a little interest in government to attend Capitol Experience because it is a blast and an amazing opportunity 4-H teens are lucky to have.

For more information on the next Capitol Experience, go to the Michigan 4-H web site or call your local MSU Extension 4-H staff.

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