(Kristen Forbes is a freelance writer living in Tigard. To view her blog, visit www.krissymick.blogspot.com)
'A lot of people characterize our generation as apathetic and not caring,' Mark Munro, a 17-year-old senior at Southridge High School, says.
Referring to his position as co-chair on the Beaverton Mayor's Youth Advisory Board, he says, 'This is really an opportunity to go against that stereotype.'
Co-chair Lulu Xiao, an 18-year-old senior at Southridge, recognizes this as a 'good opportunity to get my voice out and work at a level where I have a say and it means something.'
The Mayor's Youth Advisory Board, established in 2000, is made up of 25 high school students from Beaverton-area high schools - Beaverton, Caitlin Gabel, Jesuit, School of Science and Technology, Southridge, Sunset, Valley Catholic and Westview. It was created, according to its Web site, to 'provide a voice for youth in our community.'
When asked if they think their voices get heard, Munro, Xiao and Vice Chair Monica Mohan (also 17 and a Southridge senior) give an enthusiastic 'yes.' Mayor Rob Drake (referred to by the students as 'Mr. Mayor') attends all Youth Advisory Board meetings, listens to input and talks with the students.
The experience of being on this board, they all say, has come with many rewards.
Later, secretary Tia Secasiu, an 18-year-old senior at Westview High School, adds her 2 cents: 'I think the most rewarding part is seeing a project come through and be successful. It just feels good to see that you've done something for the community.'
If the opposite of apathy is passion, these four officers and the rest of their committee are oozing with it.
For Xiao, raising youth awareness and staying informed on issues was at the top of her list.
Promoting youth involvement, Munro agrees, is incredibly important. He shares what they will try to accomplish at their upcoming Youth Summit: 'Spreading awareness about student rights and the upcoming election - promoting processes in general.'
Mohan is attracted to the diversity the board offers, pointing out that when different people from different schools and different backgrounds come together to share their ideas, the results can be incredible.
As seriously as they take their roles on the board, the teens allow for plenty of room for fun. A lot of this fun stems from having the opportunity to socialize with a new group of peers.
'The really good thing about the youth board,' Munro says, 'is that I meet people from other schools, besides Southridge. It's a really great way to expand your group of friends and meet new people.'
Mohan agrees. 'I'd long been involved in working within my school, but I thought it would be a great opportunity to start involving myself outside of school and within the community. It also is a great benefit to meet people from other schools and to get an opportunity to bounce off ideas from one another and see how much we can work together.'
The group also injects their planned activities with a heavy dose of fun. Recently, the board put on a valentines dance for the Maryville Retirement Home. They danced with the seniors, distributed boutonnieres and corsages and took prom-style photos, using sashes and tiaras as their props. The Aloha High School jazz band performed at the event.
'I'm really hoping it becomes an every-year event,' Secasiu says. 'It was really cool.'
Students are placed on the board for two years after applying and participating in group interviews, led by the mayor and elected officials. They then have the opportunity to run for office in the springtime, which is how this group of four got to their positions.
Their passion and ambitions don't stop in the board room, either.
Munro, who is 'very eager to graduate' and wants to study politics and public policy before one day working in Washington, D.C., also participates in cross country and track.
Xiao is the senior class president, a member of Model UN, and on track to participate in the Huntsman program and study international relations and business at the University of Pennsylvania.
Mohan plans on attending Bentley College in Waltham, Mass., to study business and pre-law. She wants to be a lawyer. She's also a singer and plays on the varsity tennis team.
Secasiu, also a varsity tennis player, hopes to attend either UNC or Brown, where she'd like to study biology and become a doctor.
As future politicians, lawyers and doctors and current movers, shakers and leaders, these four teens are anything but apathetic. Add to that the fact that they're also humble: 'It's not just the four of us - it's the entire board,' Xiao points out.
'Everyone pulls their weight,' Mohan agrees.