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Youth Tour Recap

 

Standing on the shoulders of giants

BY MADISON FRITZ

Are you familiar with the saying, “Where you stand in life often depends on where you sit?” In other words, our viewpoints or opinions: where we stand — is often determined by our perspective: where we grow up and our life experiences, or simply — where we sit.

It’s a saying that kept coming to mind throughout the Electric Cooperative Youth Tour, as many of the 1,600 teens vied to get one of our “North Dakota” pins. Collecting pins or stickers at Youth Tour is a way to introduce yourself and a chance to learn. You have to work really hard in a crowd of 1,600 to find 15 people from North Dakota.

Many of the Youth Tour members had never visited my state, so I had a lot of explaining to do. We are a rural state, with nearly three times more cows than people — and huge family farms that stretch across the prairie. Those farms produce more wheat than anywhere else in the nation. The burger we had for lunch, or the roll we ate at dinner: North Dakota probably had something to do with it. A Texan laughed when I told him we were the second-largest producer of oil, but we were “gunning for his state’s number-one title.” And Kentucky teens knew exactly what I meant when we discussed mining and my state’s 800-year supply of coal.

Yes, where you stand in life does depends on where you sit. And I was working really hard to give justice to MY state. But you see, I had a little secret. Where I stood and sat just 11 months before Youth Tour was a very different place.

Maddy, from the North Dakota prairie, was really Maddy from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

When my parents announced that we were moving halfway across the country right before the start of 11th grade, well, let’s just say I wasn’t planning on nominating them for Parents-Of-The-Year anytime soon. What I knew about rural electric cooperatives back then, I learned from my U.S. History class. But when I heard about the Youth Tour experience, I studied and learned, and I was humbled when my essay was chosen. I made it a point to visit one of the plants that supplied my family’s electricity. I passed miles of wind turbines and I toured a coal mine that kept its huge boilers going. Trust me on this: On a 90-degree day, on the 17th floor of a power plant, you get a new appreciation for the hard work that goes into powering our nation.

At Youth Tour orientation, I was nervous about meeting the 14 other teens — but I found we had things in common. No, I wasn’t born in North Dakota, but my great-grandparents came to America to mine coal and farm, too. Yes, I rode horses; just in an English saddle, not Western. And we bonded over something else: our love of technology. Yep, our generation lives online. We Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat and check Facebook constantly.

The Pentagon Memorial was our first stop on Youth Tour. It was a stirring tribute to the lives lost on that horrible day that we simply call 9/11. It occurred to me then, that 9/11 was another thing we had in common. We are the generation raised — from toddlers to teens — during a never-ending war on terror.

I don’t want to sound overly dramatic, as the 15 years of war have affected few of us like World War II did for the Greatest Generation. Like my grandpa, who served in the South Pacific, or my grandma, a nurse who cared for the wounded soldiers when they returned home. With less than 1 percent of our nation’s population serving in today’s all-volunteer military, few of us know the real sacrifice made by our military families. But the almost daily drip ... drip ... drip ... of headlines of horror have affected us all.

Still, I think most of us try to do our part. In 8th grade, I donated my $800 winnings from a contest to a community-wide drive to build a handicapped-accessible home for a young veteran who lost both legs in Afghanistan. He had suffered a traumatic head injury and strokes that left him unable to speak. I had the honor of meeting Corporal Doug Vitale, and inspired by his on-going courage, I organized two fundraisers that raised another $8,000 for his new home. We all have stories like that — communities that come together to do good.

That first night in D.C., our delegation was in a solemn mood as we talked about 9/11 and the on-going mess in the world.

But we awoke the next day, excited to take pictures in front of the White House and to tour the Newseum. A new set of barriers prevented us from taking photos touching the iconic White House fence. They recently were installed because of the continued threats.

At the Newseum, we saw twisted wreckage from the World Trade Center and the worldwide headlines of the attack. AND THEN, we rounded the corner and saw the breaking CNN news projected on the wall. Orlando — 49 killed — the nation’s worst terror attack since 9/11. I think we all shared the same reaction: shock, then fear, then the crippling paralysis that terror is meant to induce. And then I got mad — really mad. The shooter — an American citizen — was the same age as Corporal Vitale — the young soldier who sacrificed so much. I found it bitterly ironic that while I was enjoying a trip to D.C. that was meant to bring young people together — a trip that, I might add, was planned and paid for by people producing electricity — another young person — used his time and that same electricity — to power up a computer and learn hate and division. To kill and maim, and terrorize our nation.

Right then and there, I realized that the same electronic devices that bring us together, to communicate with friends and learn about the world, can also be used to divide us.

It’s something we see every day. I’m not talking about terrorism, but how all of us so casually click the TV remote or open a search engine and look for people and programs who think, sound and look JUST ... LIKE ... US.

At a time when all good Americans should stand together — every issue, whether it’s the war on terror, guns or simply how to continue producing clean, affordable power — has become a battle. Debates that should focus on facts have become emotional arguments, fueled by mistrust.

The downside to emotional arguments is this: Nothing ever changes — and nothing gets done.

Throughout the rest of our tour, I made a choice: To put down my phone, ignore my computer and to fully interact with people. Yes, our Youth Tour delegations were all different, but we sang, danced and talked — A LOT. At one point someone exclaimed, “I am walking upon the shoulders of giants.”

And it hit me. Wow, that is so true. Yes, where we stand in life does depend on where we sit. But, in the United States of America, we ALL STAND on the shoulders of giants. Men and woman who confronted the evil and the problems of their generation with action — not paralysis and fear. People who CHOSE to work together.

We saw monuments to those giants on Youth Tour — people like Lincoln, Jefferson, Washington, Roosevelt and King. And we saw those honoring our “everyday giants,” the men and women who fought and sometimes died for our freedoms.

While standing on those hallowed grounds — if you listen, really listen — you can almost hear those American giants urging us on: “It’s your nation now. Don’t just stand where you sit; pick up your seats, shuffle them around, and Power On.”

Because of Youth Tour, I no longer care if I’m seen as Maddy from Pittsburgh or Maddy from Bismarck. I’m Madison Fritz, a future young leader who has the privilege of living in the United States of America.

I want to thank my cooperative, Capital Electric, for giving me the opportunity of a lifetime. And Basin Electric Power Cooperative for showing me OUR cooperatives aren’t simply standing or sitting, but working hard each day to bring us the next generation of clean, affordable power. Thanks also to the North Dakota Association of Rural Electric Cooperatives for letting me share the beauty of North Dakota with so many others. And finally, to the staff of our National Rural Electric Cooperative Association and to each of you, I make this promise: All of us young people here today will be using our own personal power — and yours — to light up OUR communities, OUR nation, and indeed, OUR world, with positive energy and change. Because we stand with all of you — the people who Power On.

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