A Powerful Lesson in Unity - Carolina Country

A Powerful Lesson in Unity

How a Youth Tourist learned that perceived differences should not divide us

By Karis Dean

Karis Dean

I stared at the list of unopened emails and saw the one I was waiting for. I called my mom so we could open it, and together we learned I had been selected to be among a brilliant group of Youth Tourists chosen to embark on an amazing opportunity in the summer of 2019.

The application process encouraged me to do research on my electric cooperative, Piedmont Electric, and opened my eyes to the potential electric cooperatives can have throughout my state, across the country, and around the world. My local electric co-op is a community-based organization that’s part of a global-scale initiative to supply all rural communities with energy. In that long-anticipated email, I was asked to represent this forward-thinking organization, dedicated to igniting the minds of the youth, investing in community outreach efforts, and lighting homes and communities.

The Youth Tour orientation dinner fell on the same day as my high school graduation; my mom and I rushed from one ceremonial event to the other. I sat at a table with other youth representing their respective cooperatives from North Carolina. I was in awe at the diverse backgrounds of each Youth Tourist.

At this event, we were given the opportunity to participate in a speech competition. One Youth Tourist would be selected to become a member of the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association’s (NRECA) Youth Leadership Council (YLC). The more I researched for my speech, the more I wanted to know about electric cooperatives and how I could help foster a relationship between the community’s youth and current cooperative board members.

“Differences presumed and differences observed are meant to spark debate and conversation, not conflict and confrontation.”

In front of a room of my peers, I delivered my speech, and was honored to be selected as my state’s YLC representative during trips to Washington, D.C., and NRECA’s Annual Meeting in New Orleans.

I anticipated learning more about electric cooperatives and my state’s role in NRECA on the D.C. trip, though I may not have considered the depth of knowledge I would receive on North Carolina’s broadband and beneficial electrification efforts. I certainly did not anticipate discovering collaborative efforts and observing bipartisanship as an attainable goal.

During the Youth Tour, I was given the opportunity to see a variety of beliefs, ideals and disciplines within my own state and across the country. One of the most valuable lessons I learned while in D.C. is that the differences we observe are not intended to divide us.

YLC Delegate Dean

Dean (right) was selected by fellow Youth Tourists to represent our state on NRECA’s Youth Leadership Council (YLC) to participate in a national leadership workshop and attend the 2020 NRECA Annual Meeting.

Differences presumed and differences observed are meant to spark debate and conversation, not conflict and confrontation. I learned this powerful lesson of unparalleled importance while watching a debate in the House of Representatives. Two disagreeing parties recognized differences and allowed those differences to propel them toward a compromise.

The benefits I received from the opportunity I was offered are multifaceted. My eyes were opened to the significant initiatives of cooperatives: locally, nationally and globally. My mind was flooded with possibilities and “what if” questions. My heart was filled with the lasting relationships I forged. My Youth Tour experience provided me with yet another unexpected opportunity — that of writing this column. And it prompted me to reach out to some of my fellow Youth Tourists to ask what their favorite parts of Youth Tour were. The consensus was reached and we all agreed that we loved the passions ignited within and among us.

I had a path I presumed would lead me to my career goals, but I did not expect one email to change my path, nor did I imagine it would change the way I thought of politics, energy, community and collaboration. I became passionate about fostering a lasting relationship and impact on my community. I have high hopes for the future of cooperatives and the youth of America, because my Youth Tour and Youth Leadership Council experiences expanded my horizons, and I hope they do the same for future delegates.

Honoring Youth Tourists

The 2020 Youth Tour was canceled due to travel restrictions amid the ongoing pandemic, but North Carolina’s electric cooperatives are still finding ways to honor this year’s delegates. A YLC scholarship will be awarded, and NRECA is hosting a weekly online series of speakers and elected officials to bring Youth Tourists together.

About the Author

Karis Dean grew up in Chapel Hill and now attends NC State University in Raleigh. She is majoring in Economics and Spanish Language and Literature.

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