Columbine as catalyst: Teens discover new leadership roles

I'm the type of kid who wouldn't be caught dead at a student-council meeting. I just don't have enough passion to get up so early in the morning.

But sometimes we stumble into things. While covering an announcement of an upcoming statewide education conference, I accidentally signed up for a role on the Core Leadership Team - a group of students that sits down with Joe Rogers, the lieutenant governor of Colorado, to help with organizing the conference. The planning sessions are important to me personally, since they have gotten me interested again in government.

I used to want to be president, but after watching Bill Clinton's private life being put on public display, I became disillusioned. To me, politics had lost its honor.

I was not alone, either. I know only one person at my high school who wants to be president. A teacher who asks who wants to go into politics usually gets no positive response at all.

But recently, new kinds of leadership opportunities have emerged for high-schoolers.

It's unfortunate that a major catalyst for these opportunities was a tragic occurrence in my hometown - the fatal shootings at Columbine High School in April 1999. But the incident has opened the door for teenagers who need to have their voices heard. Suddenly, adults are open to - and sometimes insistent upon - listening.

Since last April, for instance, I have attended four small meetings of my local and state government. The first was at the sheriff's office and related directly to Columbine. But the other three (the planning meetings for the lieutenant governor's conference) dealt with issues that are relevant far beyond Littleton, such as literacy and the dropout rate.

For a politician, Lt. Gov. Rogers is awfully quiet at the meetings. He interjects sometimes to answer a question or clarify an issue, but the content of the discussion is controlled by the students, and decisions are made by consensus or majority vote.

Many of my peers on the core leadership team are from backgrounds similar to mine - they are ordinary people, not involved in traditional leadership activities, who stumbled onto this unprecedented opportunity. There is a huge push at every meeting to make sure schools bring not just the members of their student councils to the conference in April.

We believe it is imperative that the forum be open to all sorts of people, including dropouts and home-schooled teenagers.

It is important for adults to continue to solicit the ideas and opinions of their successors through various gatherings like these. But it's also important for teens not to lose faith in the power they can hold. By getting involved in world affairs now, our generation can make a difference.

* Nathan Black is a sophomore at Arapahoe High School in Littleton, Colo.

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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