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The Great Comeback

High-schoolers from across the state gathered for the 74th Annual Tennessee 4-H Congress in Murfreesboro
Story and photos by Cara Moore 10/1/2021

 

After three days of educational ventures and fun activities in the city of Nashville, 4-H members convened to elect the 2021-2022 Congress officers. From left is Mason Valentine, speaker of the senate; Cade Simmons, governor; and Addie Brooks, speaker of the house.
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A mid teaser videos set to Europe’s “The Final Countdown” and Marvel’s “Avengers Unite” theme song, 4-H representatives and senators from across the state of Tennessee prepared themselves for a reunion like no other over the months leading up to the 74th Annual Tennessee 4-H Congress event, held August 15-18.


They were not disappointed. 


Although the event was delayed and looked a little different this year, the organization did not cut corners on a full itinerary of activities for its members. Familiar faces, educational trips, and gripping competitions were just a few of the things that made this four-day experience so appealing and memorable. 


The theme of the conference was, appropriately, “The Great Comeback.” Due to the pandemic, the youth organization was not able to host last year’s event in-person and was forced to conduct the 2021 Congress in August rather than March as has been the standard in previous years. 


4-H Congress is held each year with the intention of teaching high-school students how to be responsible citizens by understanding the functions of government and how they can be involved, even at a young age. Because of Nashville’s natural beauty, culture, and historical significance, the city acted as the perfect host for the 4-Hers. Two 4-H senators and representatives were chosen from each county to serve as ambassadors and to learn how their respective roles function in a state government. 


Director and 4-H State Program Leader Justin Crowe spoke of the outstanding educational experience that students receive from this event. 


“We bring together high-schoolers from across the state who have been learning and studying about government and the legislative process, and we give them a chance to experience it in real-life,” Justin said. “Many attendees were able to meet Governor Bill Lee and their legislators, and were able to sit in the chambers and vote on bills that were written by 4-Hers.”


He added that 4-H Congress is meant to mirror what happens at the Tennessee State Capitol. Students support, oppose, and debate bills, and ultimately vote on legislation.


One of the highlights of the Congress experience, according to the newly elected 2021-2022 speaker of the senate — Mason Valentine of Sevier County — was a visit to the Tennessee State Capitol and Legislative Plaza. 


“The Senate chambers were absolutely incredible,” said Mason. “We sat in their seats and voted on bills that are actually being passed to chambers.” 


Delegates also visited the impressive Tennessee State Museum, toured historic downtown Nashville, and cruised the Cumberland River on the General Jackson Showboat. 


The General Assembly met Tuesday, August 17, at the Embassy Suites in Murfreesboro to elect the 2021-2022 Congress officers. During the election, teams from each region of the state also competed in the 4-H History Bowl in which 4-Hers test their knowledge of American history. The central region, represented by Abigail Barnett and Hadley Brown of Sumner County, took home the first-place title.


After a suspenseful couple of hours, votes were finally tallied and the new state officers were announced. The 2021-2022 team is Cade Simmons, Van Buren County, governor; Mason Valentine, Sevier, speaker of the senate; and Addie Brooks, Claiborne, speaker of the house. 


“It feels truly amazing to be elected governor,” said Cade of his new role. “I look forward to helping shape the 4-H program, meeting all the different people in 4-H, and learning about their lives and interests.”


TFC’s Event and Sales Support Manager Jimmy Ogilvie, says that Tennessee Farmers Cooperative (TFC) is proud to support the 4-H Foundation by contributing to sponsorships, conferences, and various events, including 4-H Congress. 


“TFC has been a faithful supporter of 4-H for many years,” says Jimmy. “We are thankful for the chance to contribute to organizations such as 4-H that are making such a significant impact on youth development and are equipping future leaders with important skills.”


A Citizenship Banquet recognizing the state winners of the public speaking, citizenship portfolio, and leadership portfolio competitions and an Inaugural Ball wrapped up 4-H Congress on Tuesday evening at the Embassy Suites. Justin Crowe spoke of the importance of balancing academics and fun, especially when many young people have gone through such hard times this past year. 


“Here in 4-H, we’re all about learning, but we’re also about having fun,” he said. “These young people have been through a difficult 18 months, and anything we can do to let them have a good time and enjoy themselves in a safe manner is important to us.”


The newly elected officers encouraged their peers to get involved in the 4-H organization and to seek leadership opportunities. 


“4-H teaches you necessary skills that aren’t taught in school nowadays,” said new speaker of the senate, Addie Brooks. “I guarantee that people will always leave here with knowledge they didn’t previously have.” 


Justin agreed on the impact that 4-H can have on the lives of young people and expressed his delight with the resilience and dedication that Tennessee 4-Hers have shown.


“We aren’t training leaders of tomorrow,” he pointed out. “We’re training leaders of today. Our 4-Hers have really stepped up to the plate, proving that this year really has been a great comeback for 4-H.”


 
 
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