Finding Inspiration on the NC Youth Tour
UNC's student body president recalls an unforgettable experienceBy Savannah Putnam
I will never forget the day I found out I had been selected to participate in the NC Electric Cooperative Youth Tour.
I came home from my high school basketball practice to find balloons from my parents and a congratulations letter from Rutherford EMC. I was so excited; I had learned so much just from the process of applying. My dad and I had carefully completed the home energy management survey that was part of the application. I checked doors, types of light bulbs—even crawled under the house and climbed into the attic to examine how efficient our home was.
The night before we were to go to Washington, D.C., a dinner was held in Raleigh for parents and attendees. I arrived early and nervously to the dinner. I had elected to give a speech in an attempt to win a scholarship and a spot on the Youth Leadership Council. Once again, I gained knowledge as I researched electric cooperatives. I never knew cooperatives were not-for-profit, or that there were so many advantages to being a part of one. Nor did I know that this speech would fuel a passion for public speaking or that the skills I learned preparing for it would aid me in my future. I didn’t win, but I did earn runner-up and was chosen for another leadership spot.
Soon it was time for our group to say goodbye to our parents, and our six-hour bus ride began the next morning with funny introductions and with our youth tour leaders (who were honestly the absolute best) telling us all about the week’s itinerary. I actually sat on the bus across from two people who would soon become my peers at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. We still see each other regularly, and I would never have known them save for this experience. It was so nice to begin my university experience with two people I already knew! In the same way, I still keep in touch with many of the other friends I made on this trip. Even today, more than four years later, we comment on each other’s Instagram and Facebook posts.
Washington, D.C., was a whirlwind! We visited our congressional members; we spent time at the Smithsonian; we toured the monuments. The most moving event was being one of four who had the honor of laying a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
However, my favorite part of the trip was on the other side of town. I still tell friends who visit DC to go to the Newseum. I remember looking at rubble from the Twin Towers and reading personal accounts from the September 11 terrorist attack while silently thanking the public servants, firefighters, police officers and first responders who were such heroes. It was at the Newseum that I saw actual pieces from the Berlin Wall and headlines from historic Supreme Court judgments. It reinforced my love of history and political science. Everything about this experience impacted me.
It was here that I realized being a public servant isn’t about glory. I saw that it was about selflessly serving those in need. It sparked a passion in me to help others. While at UNC, I have continued my love of service as a Buckley Public Service Scholar, a legal aid intern, and now, as student body president.
I was just a kid from rural North Carolina, and I was presented with an opportunity that ultimately shaped my direction in life. I am forever thankful for the experience, the friends, and the leadership skills I gained on the trip.
About the AuthorSavannah Putnam grew up in Morganton and currently serves as student body president at UNC Chapel Hill. She is majoring in Political Science and Interpersonal Communications with a minor in History.
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