I am continually impressed with how Notre Dame has evolved since I walked its halls as a student. While it’s always been a first class, college preparatory school, one that offered plenty of empowering and enriching extracurricular activities, it’s never been content to rest on its laurels. Thanks to its consistent, visionary leadership over the years, NDP remains a truly progressive school, in the best sense of the word. There are a thousand examples, many of which we’ll highlight in Bluenote over the coming weeks. But today’s post will focus on just one of them: the Youth and Government Club.
Now, when I went to Notre Dame, chances are, if a group of us ventured down to Annapolis, it was to attend a Naval Academy afternoon “Tea” Dance. But when today’s NDP student travels to our state capital, she heads right for the Maryland State House where she spends three days in intense legislative session. If she has time to visit the Naval Academy at all, chances are it’s to pick up a college application with an eye towards becoming a midshipman. Tea dance, schmee-dance.
Notre Dame’s Youth and Government Club (Y&G) is part of a statewide high school program sponsored by the State of Maryland and the YMCA. Its mission is to educate students about the legislative process and to develop strong leaders for tomorrow. Students from across the state form delegations within their own school; rigorously research and debate issues, develop bi-partisanship, write bills, and travel around the state to campaign among their peers. The program culminates in a three-day mock assembly in Annapolis during which each school delegation presents and skillfully argues the merits of their bill on the floor of the House Chamber. It is a remarkable opportunity and learning experience with long-term practical applications. In addition to learning about the legislative and executive branches of state government, as well as the legislative process, students also develop skills in leadership, critical thinking, analysis, writing and communications, civility and interpersonal relationships, parliamentary procedure, and public affairs. And on top of it all, they have a lot of fun.
Out of the 18 Maryland schools that participate in the Y&G program, NDP is the only single-sex, all girl school to do so. The other private schools around town don’t know what they’re missing. This year, Notre Dame has a delegation of over 50 students participating as delegates, senators, pages, lobbyists, and press. And for the first time, a Notre Dame student, senior Jo Etienne, will serve as Governor over the entire 2013 assembly. Jo was elected by the 2012 Maryland student assembly at last year’s session. It is the highest-ranking office in the program and quite an honor for both Jo and Notre Dame. In addition, Jo will serve as the president of Notre Dame’s delegation. As Governor, Jo’s responsibilities include organizing and planning all student assembly activities and programs, and presiding over all meetings. Her primary focus, she promises, is to make sure “that each member gets to participate fully and have a positive experience.” Her gubernatorial agenda for the year also includes introducing a judiciary branch to the Y&G program, something missing up to now and something about which she feels passionate.
Jo is a lovely study in contrasts: a quiet dynamo; elegant, poised, self-assured, yet understated and unassuming; a big dreamer with her feet firmly planted on the ground. She has a keen interest in the law and wants to be a JAG lawyer after graduating from West Point (sorry Naval Academy). She plays the double bass fiddle (way bigger than a cello) in both the school band and her church choir. She also has an interest in fashion design and has sewn her own
creations for various NDP fashion shows. She is impeccably polite, in some ways a throw back to an earlier era, yet she is a forward thinking neo-feminist who believes we need more women in government. She is a first generation American, the eldest daughter of immigrant parents from the Caribbean who met as students at Columbia University. She cites her parents as her most positive influence in life and credits them for grounding her. Jo also gives credit to Notre Dame. “I wasn’t sure of myself when I first came to Notre Dame. I wasn’t sure of…where I would fit in. But Notre Dame kinda molded me. They exposed me to so much opportunity. They focused on my well-being…supported me…recognized what I had to offer, maybe….” And then, as if to deflect the spotlight from herself, she added, “They do that with each girl.” As a result, Jo evolved from meek freshman to Madame Governor. Something tells me that’s just the beginning. Jo Etienne. Double bass player. Governor elect. NDP Class of 2013. And a fascinating part of NDP’s rich multi-dimensionality.
If you would like to learn more about the Maryland Youth and Government program, click here: http://www.mdymcayag.org
If you’re an alum, what NDP experience or opportunity shaped your life? If you’re a prospective parent or student, what opportunities would you like to see offered at NDP? Send Bluenote your stories, suggestions, and comments. We’d love to hear from you.