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Orono student Anne Guidera served as this year’s governor. (Submitted photo)

Students from across Minnesota gathered virtually at the annual YMCA Youth in Government (YIG) Model Assembly, including 17 Orono students in grades 8-12.

Orono students participate through Community Education, but the Youth in Government program is conducted almost entirely by students. The assembly is typically a “hands-on civic education event.” This year, the assembly went virtual and included youth-led sessions where students experienced government functions firsthand.

Students participated in a realistic and complex simulation of the Minnesota state government. Students served as legislators, judges, attorneys, lobbyists, cabinet members, media representatives and introductory Leadership Corps members.

Orono student Anne Guidera served as this year’s governor and students Martin Weiss and Hunter Wheaton were selected among their legislative program groups as outstanding members.

“Anne as the Youth in Government Governor for this year is an especially good topic. Her speech was excellent. Martin and Hunter are our local delegation leaders for the coming year and were selected as outstanding members of their programs, so also great students to highlight,” delegate director Melanie DeLuca said.

Guidera, Weiss and Wheaton have been involved in YIG since the eighth grade and agreed the program has introduced them to new people and provided a fun space to participate in the simulations while also gaining leadership experience.

“It’s the whole experience because being there with friends and making new friends is a huge part of it,” Weiss said.

The program has remained a place for Wheaton, Weiss and Guidera to find new friendships with participating students all over the state. Weiss has been in the same program area for the last few years and while the virtual assembly did not allow participants to meet in person, it still offered a space for students to learn from the program and each other.

“This year was great. I think that the governor, lieutenant governor and everybody else who helped plan this year’s launch worked hard and did an amazing job with what they were given. It was also fun seeing all of the people who really cared about the program log on and have really lively debates,” Wheaton said.

The virtual event offered students more speaking time and deeper debates, Wheaton added. As governor, Guidera worked with other delegates to make the most out of the opportunities provided. In a typical year, Guidera would have met with bill authors to discuss her decisions on their bills. The process was conducted virtually this year.

“We were still able to practice our leadership skills and learn from one another, just in a different format. Although nothing compares to being in person, the officers all hosted virtual evening activities such as bingo, talent shows and online game rooms. Delegates had a great time, and we received overwhelming feedback that this year was worth it,” Guidera said.

“I’d say that I definitely gained a deeper respect for everybody that was able to get through everything that is going on in the world and our county and speaking their mind on the topics that they are passionate about and have meaning, discussion while staying respectful,” Wheaton said.

When looking ahead, the students said they saw their experiences as a way to improve themselves, learn more about processes in government and serve as a place to work collaboratively with others.

“I have grown passionate about working collaboratively with others to solve problems in our community. In addition to political advocacy, I am interested in business and entrepreneurship. I believe businesses and government both have the power to create positive change,” Guidera said.

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