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VUHS seniors lobby for Vermont youth council

VERGENNES UNION HIGH School seniors Adelaide Brooks (second from left) and Alder Donovan Cook stand with State Reps. Diane Lanpher (left) and Matt Birong outside a committee room in the Vermont Statehouse this past Thursday morning. Brooks and Donovan Cook testified before the committee on a bill that would create a Vermont State Youth Council.

Editor’s note: The writer, Alder Donovan Cook, is a senior at Vergennes Union High School and a student representative on the Addison Northwest School District Board.
MONTPELIER — Though this past Thursday morning was a school day, I was not going to Vergennes Union High School. Adelaide Brooks and I, both seniors at VUHS, were traveling to the capitol in Montpelier to testify to the House Governance and Operations Committee.
The bill that we were testifying on, H.775, would establish a State Youth Council. It was introduced and has been championed by our very own Rep. Diane Lanpher, a Vergennes Democrat. Fellow Vergennes Democrat Rep. Matt Birong is a co-sponsor.
The youth council that the bill would create would be a group of youth ages nine to 26 that would advise both the governor and the general assembly. This cohort makes up 23 percent of the Vermont population, according to the bill.
The bill gives numerous justifications for its existence, but the reason I consider to be the most important is that Vermont’s economy depends on the participation of its young people. As a student representative on the ANWSD school board, I am acutely aware of the necessity of making Vermont attractive to young people to come and raise families to keep our way of life sustainable, and the best way to understand the needs of today’s youth is to include them in the conversation in the first place.
The focus of our testimony was the importance of including youth voice in governance to build engagement and help grow the skills that would create the best future citizens and leaders. The age group that this bill seeks to include is right when we are developing our relationships to ourselves and our communities. If the voices of our youth are constantly and consistently diminished and looked down upon, how can we expect for our young people to grow into excellent democratic citizens? How can we legislate for the future if the people who will be living that future are not its architects?
We were asked many questions on topics ranging from affordable housing, to equity, to the importance of the trades in school curricula, but we always came back to the essential point: The youth of Vermont deserve to have their voices heard and respected, both for their benefit and the benefit of all Vermonters, and Rep. Lanpher’s bill is the best way to make it happen.

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