Daniel Waqar’s U.S. government class at Advanced Technologies Academy planned to send eight students to the Sun Youth Forum.
The high school students would compose an essay, which would be used by their teacher in determining who would attend the annual event, designed for young people to express their opinions on topics such as school violence and foreign policy. Many in Waqar’s class wanted to be included.
“It was pretty intense because being part of Sun Youth Forum was always on my radar,” said Waqar, now 24 and working toward a master’s degree at Oxford.
Waqar was selected. The experience in 2011 lived up to his expectations and helped further ignite his interest in foreign policy and public service.
The Sun Youth Forum returns for a 62nd year today at the Las Vegas Convention Center, where about 1,000 students from 52 local high schools are expected for a day of discussion on issues affecting their life.
“It was democracy in the broadest sense of the word,” Waqar said. “It was teens from all walks of life and all political viewpoints engaged in great, free-flowing discussion. (The moderators) allowed us to engage in all viewpoints.”
The students will be divided into seven discussion groups, including law and crime, home in Nevada, and teen topics. They will exchange views on a wide range of issues — immigration, health care, gun control and more.
Las Vegas Sun founder and publisher Hank Greenspun, with the vision that adults should listen to thoughts and opinion of youths, started the Sun Youth Forum in 1956. It has grown by leaps and bounds through the years as the city has expanded from a few high schools to more 50, and as more students such as Waqar have eagerly awaited their turn to participate.
“Listen to youth, for theirs is a wisdom untainted by cynicism, unbounded by pessimism and full of bright hope for the future,” Greenspun wrote in a 1950s article on the event.
Waqar served on the Nevada Youth Legislature, a two-year program for students to learn the legislative process and state government, and eyed a career in policymaking and public service. The forum helped reaffirm those desires and cement his college choice of UNLV, where he would excel in the Honors College.
“I had doubts about staying in state for college. This helped shatter those doubts,” he said.
Waqar was awarded a prestigious Truman Scholarship, one of just 58 college students nationally to receive the honor in 2015 and the third UNLV student so honored in the school’s history.
He wound up working for the Millennium Challenge Corporation, a government foreign aid agency that fosters infrastructure improvements in developing countries to improve health and encourage economic growth. He has helped with efforts in Nepal, Georgia and Mongolia.
Spending the day with other like-minded teens at the Sun Youth Forum was a significant part of his journey in public service.
“The youth forum further inspired me,” Waqar said.