Texas leaders, Illinois legislators shine at 2018 National LDZ
The 2018 National LDZ, the first ever hosted at the University of St. Francis in Joliet, Illinois, convened last week, with a contingent of Texas students emerging in the top leadership positions. Ultimately, though, it was a pair of the Chicago-area students who traditionally represent well at the event coming through with legislation.
“We were incredibly welcomed and received by the University of St. Francis,” said the program’s Education Director (and NHI Senior Vice President) Julio Cotto. “From the moment staff arrived, we were made to feel at home and part of their community. The President was excited to have such a diverse group of young leaders on his campus, which is not something they have all the time as a primarily regional institution. As an institution that prides itself on serving its immediate geographic community, they were delighted to be a part of NHI’s work in the Midwest.”
Oscar Reyes, from Palatine High School in Palatine, Illinois, authored a bill encouraging STEM education for youth which passed through the legislative process successfully. A fellow student from the same party, Jonathan Hernandez from Warren Township High School in Gurnee, Illinois, was able to shepherd his Culture Appreciation Day bill through both houses and onto the President’s Desk.
Throughout the week, students learned about the collaborative process of public policy while one of its alumni, 2005 National LDZ delegate Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, was still being celebrated for her surprise win in the Democratic Primary in New York’s 14th District.
“The LDZ has been a rollercoaster of emotions,” said Thalia Revilla from Young Women’s Leadership Academy in San Antonio. “I feel like I’ve been here for ages. I also feel like I have done so much, not just for NHI, but I have also changed so much myself.” Revilla, who originally ran for President, lost that race, but described it as “a low that turned into a high,” as she was successfully able to win the Speaker of the House race.
Revilla was part of a female leadership group that President Maria Zimbron, from IB at Lamar Academy in McAllen, Texas, found significant. “We are challenging social labels because at this LDZ, the two leaders, the President and Vice President, are females, and the Speaker of the House is a female,” she said. “I think that when people envision a president they envision a male, when people envision a leader, they envision a male.”
Evelyn Whitworth, Zimbron’s IB at Lamar Academy classmate who became Vice President, attributed their success in the election — and throughout the week — to taking chances. “Breaking out of our comfort zone was probably one of the best things we have done,” she assessed, adding that she valued the perspective of students from different regions, making it all the more impressive that they came together.
Trevor Galloso, from the Science Academy of South Texas in McAllen, served as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court.
Throughout the week, students shared similar sentiments about the week — being initially intimidated by the public speaking demands placed on them, and then growing into the program, developing confidence, and making friends, all while appreciating how Latinos from different perspectives were able to come together and unify.
“They challenged themselves to see the future and reality beyond the scope of problems,” Cotto observed. “Others struggle with challenging structures and power in the context of the learning game. It was as if being liked, accepted, or not being bullied was a quiet hurdle to be jumped. Ultimately, students realized that NHI’s environment allows for all perspectives to be heard and ideas to be proposed. I feel you see a new set of responses to the LDZ that are reflective of a generation that is growing up with a device in hand faster than a pencil or a brush.”
“The National LDZ has become its own flavor of program, really adopting more systems and twists from the U.S. federal system,” Cotto added. “The party leaders have an extended role and the Senate pro tem follows the federal model. The party’s not only have to have a solid platform and legislative direction but have the time to unfold an agenda.”
“One of the interesting things I noticed from some of the final proposals was a desire to activate or trigger action,” Cotto went on to observe. “Many of the delegates debated a proposal that would make a distinction between NHIers who attended programs and NHIers who dedicated a minimum number of service hours. For them, this was reflective of the investor-beneficiary cycle from community social entrepreneurship models. The President held the line on the proposals needing to be sustainable, member benefiting, member resourced, and asset based top to bottom. The President shared that while many of the Great Debate lessons involved breaking arguments apart and often tearing an argument down, LDZ challenged her and her peers to build. She commented it was a much harder challenge, but in a good way. The Speaker of the House reflected to her peers that ‘changing things is just second nature to us now.'”