Earlier this month, I had the sincere pleasure of hosting 23 of this community’s young men and women here at the city building. These young people were part of the Piqua Area Chamber of Commerce’s Teen Leadership Program. Each year, they come to the city building to gain a greater knowledge of local government and to participate in a mock city commission meeting. For the past few years, I have had the responsibility of coordinating the mock city commission meeting and each year the students, while they seem to get younger and younger, perform their roles better and better.
This year’s class was nothing short of exceptional. I sat through the meeting playing varying roles; I sat as an observer to see how these young people would handle their roles. I was a bit of a traffic cop helping to navigate the agenda with the proper procedures. I also had the chance to be a participant, speaking both for and against certain items.
These young people went through their roles with such a degree of comfort, candor and humor; it seemed second nature for these teenagers to collectively deliberate and make decisions. They were comfortable in dealing with the information they had and the opinions of others; there actions could have been a model for our elected leaders in Washington. As they went through the meeting, they understood the solemn demeanor and the implied respect the commission chambers demanded. For more than once, I had to stop and realize that this was not a real city commission meeting; these were youngsters simply playing these roles, yet performing them amazingly well.
It was obvious that these young people had a strong work ethic; they prepared for their roles and did a wonderful job. Not only that, but many of these students lead amazing lives in and out of the classroom; they excel at their studies, they are talented athletes and musicians; some have jobs. More than that, they are comfortable with themselves and with others. Many of them have a maturity and a wisdom that is beyond their years. I can attest; there was no way I was that smart, that talented or that aware of the world when I was in high school.
I was comforted by the fact that if this is the future of our community, our residents should take notice. These young people are motivated and driven to do the best job they can do. Even more, their future fields of pursuit are varied, from private sector work to the military, our community’s youngsters realize that there is a huge world out there and they have the confidence and the courage to achieve whatever is within their reach and much, much more.
Yet, at the same time, I was deeply troubled. Those that really understand this community understand that we are at risk of losing the battle of demographics. Our strong community is getting older and I am deeply afraid that the opportunities for these young people to stay in this time are at risk of being more diminished now than they were even a generation ago. Along with that, these younger people know that there is a world out there for them and they are going after it. Inevitably, our community’s loss will be this world’s gain.
Through all of this we need to be more resolved than ever to help create the environment in which these young people, will want to come back to their hometown and find a rich life with loving families and fulfilling careers, or whatever their hearts may desire for themselves. I can’t say I know all the answers to encourage these future leaders to come back. But, selfishly, I want them back. I want their creativity, their energy, their drive. I want them to be the leaders of the future. And I honestly believe if you are in this town, you will want them back as well. We cannot afford to let them go.
William (Bill) Lutz is the Development Program Manager for the city of Piqua and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org