Sixty years is a long time to be doing the same thing — unless you are talking about the Las Vegas Sun Youth Forum, which is exactly what I am talking about today.
It is human nature to find something that is good and genuine and helpful on a large scale to thousands and, perhaps, hundreds of thousands of people in our community and, if you can, take credit for it. There is a lot of that going around these days.
But that is not my intention. Instead, I am here to give credit where credit is due — to the 1,000 high school juniors and seniors who filled the youth forum discussion rooms at the Las Vegas Convention Center this past week and to the tens and tens of thousands of students throughout the decades who are alumni of the single-best program of its kind for young people in the nation.
I also have to thank our partners at the Clark County School District under the leadership of Superintendent Pat Skorkowsky and with the able and dedicated assistance of Sandy Ginger and Jody Plante. They have worked year in and year out with Brian Cram and Sheila Lee from the Sun to make sure that the young people who participate in the youth forum have the best experience possible.
There are plenty of people to thank, especially the adult moderators, many of whom were youth forum participants during their high school careers, but I think you get the point. These big programs, the ones that work year after year, decade after decade, do not happen by themselves. Even the entertainers — the folks who give of their time to provide the kids some fun during the lunch break — understand the importance of what the youth forum does.
This past week, the incomparable Terry Fator performed his special kind of entertainment, and to make sure it went well, he brought Elvis and Lady Gaga with him. Lady Gaga was played impeccably by Kevin Janison of Channel 3 weather fame — he is also a moderator — with an able vocal assist from Fator.
I am writing about the youth forum as I do every year about this time because it continues to inspire not only me but every student counselor, educator, administrator and moderator who are committed to the forum’s success, This year, more than most, the passion and the energy and the commitment by the students to do their best and learn the most was evident and obvious.
For those who are unaware of what the youth forum does, let me give you a little history. Sixty years ago — at a time when there were less than a handful of high schools in town — the voices of the young people were continually being drowned out by the indifference of their parents and community leaders.
My father, Hank Greenspun, and his assistant Ruthe Deskin believed that since this world is always about building for the next generation, that it was time for the older generations in Las Vegas to pay attention to those who would inherit the earth. The youth forum was born with the specific purpose of providing a safe, respectful and responsible place for high school students to express their opinions about a whole host of issues, from local to national and beyond.
What started with less than 100 students from five schools has grown to capacity — 1,000 students from 52 high schools. They spend an entire day listening to their colleagues from other schools across the valley, debating them, learning from them and finding consensus on those issues where consensus can be found.
And, then, we do our part. Whether through the Las Vegas Sun and our many publications and websites or on television or radio, we make sure that community leaders and parents read and hear what their kids are thinking. Think of it as being forewarned and, therefore, forearmed.
What is most impressive to those of us who have been doing this for a long time is the quality of the discussions that take place in those convention center rooms. The preparation that most of the students — almost all of whom are college bound — bring to the table and the passion with which they argue their positions give us all reason to believe that our country and, by extension, our planet will be in good hands.
I often find myself — as I listen to these kids talk about what needs to be done with the environment, social justice, individual rights and freedoms and collective purpose as Americans — thinking that we should lower the voting age yet again to make sure all of these young people have an immediate say about how this country is governed. Most of the time they make so much more sense than their parents!
The point is that those of us who are supposed to be running things have no idea how or what the largest generation since the baby boomers thinks about the country it will soon inherit.
But you can fix that. You can be a “with it” parent or a “with it” community leader by following what these kids have to say in the pages of the Sun and everywhere else we will publish their voices later this month.
Long before gay rights took the nation by storm, long before legalized pot became de rigueur and long before gun safety laws came up for a vote of the people, the students at the Sun Youth Forum were warning us about how mainstream thinking comes about. It starts in high school, gains momentum as young people become voters and takes the rest of the country by storm because it just “had no idea.”
The Sun Youth Forum provides the adults in our community a window into what comes next. We have been doing it for 60 years. I hope we can do it for 60 more!
Brian Greenspun is editor, publisher and owner of the Sun.