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Vol. III, No. 4 – April 2011 | The Alumni Newsletter Highlighting Activities of JSA – Junior State of America
JSA Members Stand Up To Adversity
jeff harris As JSA chapters and members take up the “Be The People” challenge, they have gotten a real education from the reaction of adults who aren’t used to having thoughtful, knowledgeable young people raising their hands and speaking up in forums usually reserved for those who have been there for decades. A couple of recent examples illustrate the challenges young people face and their resiliency in the face of push back from the adult world.

Most appalling was the reaction of school administrators in Secaucus, N.J., to a JSA member who asked a question about credit for art courses at a school board meeting. The student was asked to apologize for asking a question and teachers were thought to have put him up to making the inquiry. (You can read about the incident and my letter to the editor in the Hudson Reporter.)

Even people who value math and science courses over art courses should applaud a student who wants to be involved in his or her own education and involved in decisions related to the educational experience. Moreover, the assumption that students who get involved are merely the puppets of their teachers wrongly shows a lack of respect for young adults who don’t fit into the stereotype of the apathetic and shallow teenager. JSA encourages students to think critically and speak persuasively – activities that should be rewarded rather than punished.

Reaction to former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s appearance at the JSA Midwest Spring State gave students and some journalists a chance to reflect on the nature of politics, power and ethics in government. The editorial page of the State Journal-Register in Springfield, Ill., initially felt that Blagojevich would some how brainwash a group of gullible students. They just don’t know JSA members and showed a lack of respect for high school students in general. Kudos to one of our JSA members who wrote her own opinion piece that was published by the paper. Because she spoke out, the editors opened their eyes and recognized that many students – especially JSA members – are bright enough and aware enough to explore all aspects of politics.

Ultimately, the former governor danced his way around thoughtful and respectful questions and the students got an up-close view of this intelligent, yet flawed, individual. Blago does not fit my definition of a statesman, but shielding young people from his example of what happens when politicians stray from an ethical path does nothing to prepare them from the realities of a life in politics. Illinois residents have lots of reasons to dislike Blagojevich, and their negative reaction to his appearance provided an opportunity for JSA members to show that high school students can intelligently evaluate public figures and not have the wool pulled over their eyes. (Another JSA member’s opinion piece was also published.)

JSA’s “Be The People” campaign centers on getting students to be actively involved in civic life and their communities right now, while they are in high school. In addition to the leadership, public speaking and organizational skills gained through participation in JSA, this involvement in the “real world” of politics, government and community affairs builds an expectation for life-long active citizen engagement. “Fighting city hall” becomes easier as an adult after learning your way around the building and meeting the key players while still in high school.

As JSA members take the skills and knowledge acquired at our summer programs and school-year conventions into the real world of politics and government, let me take this opportunity to thank our alumni and friends for your continued support. The next generation of America’s civic leaders gets a head start through their involvement in JSA chapters and leadership. Your support of these students will increase the quality of civic discourse, decrease political apathy, lessen the partisan hostilities and help “make democracy work” inside the beltway and in communities and state houses across the nation.

Midwest Spring State Keynote From Disgraced Politician
Former Gov. Rod Blagojevich, surrounded by JSA students, speaks to the press THOUGH MORE THAN 3500 high school students will have attended JSA Spring State conventions in 10 locations by next weekend, it was the 210 who attended the Midwest Spring State in Oakbrook, Ill., April 2-3, who got all the attention.

That might have had something to do with the keynote speaker, former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich, who was removed from office in 2009 after being accused of corruption and misconduct; he had served six years as governor and earlier had been in the U.S. House of Representatives and in the Illinois state legislature.

Blagojevich, who was convicted of only one of 23 federal counts — with the remaining 22 counts ordered a mistrial — is standing for retrial on those counts in a Chicago courtroom, which started April 20. With the JSA appearance only days before the retrial, the Illinois press corps went mad with anticipation and showed up at the JSA event in force.

The former governor’s speech was apparently long but summed up with most indicating his main point was that politics can be a disillusioning profession.

“You will get your heart broken,” the Chicago Tribune quoted Blagojevich as saying. “But you pick yourself up and you never quit, you never give in. It’s the adversity that shapes who you are.

“You must get involved and run for office and make things better and change things and bring that enthusiasm that you have,” the paper quoted him as saying.

Students watch Blagojevich speech under glare of TV lights Naperville North High School student Anastasia Golovashkina, JSA’s Midwest director of public relations, invited Blagojevich to speak. Talking to the Chicago Sun-Times after the speech, Golovashkina said that it appeared that Blagojevich dodged student questions.

“He tried to tie everything back to how he was a fantastic governor and about what he accomplished, and about how he’s of course not guilty,” Golovashkina told the paper.

After the speech and student questions, Blagojevich played a “Jeopardy!”-like game with the students, raising funds for earthquake and tsunami victims in Japan. Students paid $5 per question for the privilege of competing against the former governor.

”Though we have worked to raise funds for charities in the past, we anticipate that the combination of such a pressing cause with the governor’s involvement will make it our most successful fundraiser to date,” said Vicky Fernandez of Lincoln Park High School, who is director of social activism in the Midwest.

Five new chapters attended the Midwest Spring State; for full Blagojevich coverage, visit the JSA web site.

Spring states nationwide carried the theme “Revolutionizing Democracy: Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow,” with more than 1000 students attending in Southern California alone. Northern California had more than 600 high schoolers in attendance, while the Northeast had more than 560 and the Mid-Atlantic had more than 350.

Alumni Profile: Rachel Isaacs
Rachel Isaacs • JSA leadership roles
New Jersey Regional Director of Debate, 1998-1999; Princeton Summer School, 1999; New Jersey State Symposium, 1999; Mid-Atlantic State Lt. Governor, 1999-2000; Georgetown Summer School, 2000; Mid-Atlantic State Governor, 2000-2001.

• Education, jobs, residences, family
B.A., Wellesley College 2005; Jewish Theological Seminary, Rabbinical School, Manhattan, 2011. I’m living in Brooklyn now and will be ordained as a Conservative rabbi in May.

• Hobbies
Reading The Economist; discovering New York City restaurants; hiking; basketball.

• Last book read
“My Father’s Paradise,” by Ariel Sabar.

• Last accomplishment
Serving as a rabbi in Waterville, Maine, and Hillel advisor at Colby College, also in Waterville.

• Why I do what I do
I believe in the power of faith communities to build a better, more just world. As a rabbi, I can weave the lessons of Jewish tradition into the every day realities of contemporary Jews in order to enrich their lives and build their communities.

• Favorite JSA memory
Meeting U.S. Rep. John Lewis at Georgetown Summer School.

• What I learned in JSA that I still use today
How to respect and enjoy people who disagree with me on most everything. It is a rare and extremely important skill.

Karen’s Corner
Karen Prosser Karen Prosser suffered from a bout of pneumonia this month (she’s doing OK, thanks for asking) and we decided to give her a reprieve from the April column. Expect to see Karen’s Corner (and Karen herself) back in action next month.

Do you have updates for ‘Karen’s Corner’? Send them to .


In This Issue
  JSA Stands Up To Adversity
  Spring State Keynote From Blago
  Profile: Rachel Isaacs
Events calendar
April 30-May 1, 2011
 Ohio River Valley
  Spring State
 Columbus, Ohio

April 30, 2011
 Freehold, N.J.

June 5-8, 2011
 Arizona Institute on
  Leadership and Politics

June 6-9, 2011
 Texas Institute on Politics
   and Presidential Leadership

June 19-July 10, 2011
 JSA Summer School
  Georgetown University I
 Washington, D.C.

June 26-July 17, 2011
 JSA Summer School
  Stanford University
 Palo Alto, Calif.

June 29-July 24, 2011
 JSA Diplomat Program
  Capital Normal University
 Beijing, China

July 3-31, 2011
 JSA Summer School
  Princeton University
 Princeton, N.J.

July 17-Aug. 7, 2011
 JSA Summer School
  Georgetown University II
 Washington, D.C.

July 24-28, 2011
 Gene Burd Institute
  on L.A. Media and Politics

Aug. 10-13, 2011
 California Institute
  on Leadership and Politics

Aug. 10-13, 2011
 Northeast Institute on
  Leadership and
  National Security
 Princeton University

How Can I Help JSA
Donate now! Annually, thousands of JSA alumni and friends donate their time, talent and treasure to support the program. Please contact Chief Executive Jeff Harris, if you wish to volunteer, reconnect with the program, or make a gift to JSA. or (800) 334-5353.