Making a case for tobacco use prevention
Olivia Cooper knew exactly what she wanted to say when she faced the Oregon gubernatorial candidates on live television.
She didn't hesitate to remind them that they had helped raise Oregon's legal age to buy e-cigarettes and tobacco products to 21.
"Despite the law, Oregon students like me continue to see vaping in our high schools among students from all walks of life," Olivia told them, adding that the FDA had declared JUULS and e-cigarettes an epidemic among teens.
Olivia asked what their administrations would do to help increase protections for young people from smokeless tobacco and other harmful substances.
"Tobacco prevention is important for me because I've seen what it has done to people in my school, and I've seen just how many people it's touched," Olivia says. "Both of my sisters will be in high school next year, and I want it to be a place where they don't feel pressured to use tobacco to be considered 'cool.'"
The Central Oregonian recognizes the Crook County High School senior as Pamplin Media Group's 2019 Amazing Kid from Prineville because of her leadership in helping raise awareness of the dangers of youth tobacco use.
Not only did Olivia go face-to-face with Oregon leaders last fall, she also has traveled to Washington, D.C., twice to attend the Community Anti-Drug Coalitions of America conference.
"That's what turned me on to the prevention field," Olivia says.
She joined the Students Against Destructive Decisions group at her school, and the Crook County Health Department then hired her as a SADD youth liaison to advocate for youth tobacco prevention.
"She has a successful track record of hard work and the ability to balance work, volunteerism and school," says Heather Stuart, Crook County Health Department prevention coordinator who has supervised Olivia for two years. "One prime example is her leadership in the SADD group at the high school, where she spends her paid and unpaid time planning and organizing activities, events, communicating with her peers, and developing materials to hand out."
Olivia also was nominated to be a national youth ambassador for Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, where she volunteers to raise awareness in Crook County of the dangers of tobacco use, encourages her peers to stay tobacco-free, and urges elected officials to take action on protecting youth from tobacco products.
Last summer, she was invited to the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids Youth Advocacy Symposium, a five-day workshop that builds skills in advocacy, communications and leadership in Washington, D.C. While there, Olivia and fellow advocates asked members of Congress to support the FDA's authority to regulate e-cigarettes and cigars and to reject proposals to weaken it.
"I have had the opportunity to witness Olivia's professionalism, collaborative teamwork, and most of all her dedication to learning," Stuart says.
Aside from her tobacco prevention work, Olivia also serves as student body president and has been in student government all four years of high school. She's on the CCHS tennis team, worked in the local district attorney's office one summer, and is a member of the National Honor Society.
Olivia also went to the American Legion Auxiliary Girls State at Willamette University last June and was part of the defense during a mock trial.
"It was a really cool experience," Olivia says. "I was like, 'Wow! This is definitely what I could see myself doing in the future.'"
The following month, she attended the 10-day Global Young Leaders Conference in Washington, D.C., and New York, where she gained firsthand exposure to the challenges of international diplomacy.
Olivia has accepted a full-ride Academic Excellence Scholarship to the University of Texas at Dallas, where she will double major in mathematics and political science. She wants to be a district attorney or defense attorney.
"I love arguing in court," she says.
Her inspiration comes from her parents, Scott Cooper and Laura Craska Cooper.
"They definitely work hard in their respective fields, but they don't just work hard at their jobs, they work hard in the community," Olivia says. "I've seen them be able to balance their work life, their family life and their volunteer life, and it's impressed me. I want to be them when I grow up."
Olivia attended the Monday, April 29 event with her grandmothers and step-grandfather.
"I loved meeting all the other Amazing Kids there, and I was absolutely blown away by how much they had each accomplished," she said. "The keynote speaker had some great jokes and just reminded us that we were there for a reason."
Each Amazing Kid received a $200 gift certificate from Bi-Mart as well as gifts from OMSI.
Olivia said she was honored to be selected as the Central Oregonian's Amazing Kid.
"It's so incredible, and I'm proud to represent the region and be part of it."