Mill Creek delegates for the Youth and Government Legislature celebrate before the 76th Youth Governor’s Ball. (Ann Duan)

Mill Creek delegates for the Youth and Government Legislature celebrate before the 76th Youth Governor’s Ball. (Ann Duan)

Comment: YMCA’s mock legislature teaches real civics lessons

Youth and Government Club members took over the state Capitol to learn the ropes of collaboration.

By Ann Duan / For The Herald

The first week of May usually sounds warm welcomes to sunshine and springtime in Washington, but for students participating in the YMCA’s Youth and Government club, the first week of May invites shiny dress shoes and the daunting task of tying a tie. May marks the start of the Washington State Youth Legislature. For four exciting days, teenagers take over the state Capitol campus in Olympia and simulate what it’s like to be involved in our government.

For more than 76 years, students from Snohomish County and all across the state have participated in the program. Delegates mimic the Legislature with precision, serving as senators, pages, and even a Youth Governor. For many participants, YAG is a journey that takes them through high school, starting in eighth grade and going all the way to senior year. Local clubs meet during the school year in classrooms or at their local Y where students learn to draft bills and debate each other’s ideas in preparation for the state conference.

This year, clubs across Snohomish County sent 40 students to Olympia, including a handful of eighth graders and new delegates.

Beyond debate, the YAG program lives up to its motto, “Democracy must be learned by each generation,” by hosting annual elections for student leadership roles. For some club members, the challenge of running for office sounds appealing. Candidates craft speeches, perfect policies, and even design buttons and business cards to distribute among their peers at the Capitol. The competition is friendly but fierce, and victory always demands hard work.

For one candidate, hard work paid off this May. Clyde Carter III of Everett was elected to serve as the 77th Youth Governor of Washington state, representing delegates from Whatcom to Walla Walla at home in Washington and on the national stage as a member of the Youth Governors Association. His YAG journey has been anything but ordinary.

Carter, 17, a longtime Everett resident and rising senior at Shoreline Christian School, attended his first YAG meeting in the eighth grade as a member of the Mill Creek delegation. A former Y summer camp participant, he recognized Nolan Martin, the adviser heading the Mill Creek program at the time, and decided to stop by to learn more.

Carter recalls, “I just went to a meeting to be like, ‘Hey Nolan, how’s it going,’ and then I went to the next one, and then the next one. Essentially, I joined to mess with an old camp counselor of mine, and I like to say I forgot to leave.”

Though Carter didn’t have his mind set on politics in eighth grade, or even now as he aspires to pursue astronomy in the future, the program compelled him to think critically and get involved in the community. He has also served as a representative, a Governor’s Cabinet member, and a Youth Lieutenant Governor, presiding over the Senate. Some may say leadership comes naturally to Clyde. He believes strongly in listening to others’ opinions which may be different from his own and urges others to do the same.

In his words, YAG is “really challenging not just for you but others as well because it forces you to counter ideas that you might not normally face in your everyday life.” New perspectives are never negative. As his opinions have shifted, Carter’s interest in current events has not waned. It’s grown as he has come to realize the magnitude of our civic responsibilities.

Recent events have diminished many Americans’ confidence in our political system, but Carter insists that civic engagement must be encouraged to uphold our democracy.

He notes that “by virtue of being a republic, our government doesn’t work when citizens don’t participate in the government.”

At the same time, despite the rise of partisanship and political apathy, Carter also hopes that Americans can foster mutual understanding on contentious issues.

Politics is treated like a “team sport” rather than a “collaborative effort,” which poses a large barrier in government today. “Oftentimes, people in the U.S. agree on more than we think we do,” he says. “The old Lincoln quote is true, a house divided against itself cannot stand.”

As for the 77th Youth Legislature, Carter hopes to advocate for the protection of individual liberties and increased resources for the homeless as a part of his policy agenda. Most of all, he is excited to set an example as a servant leader and student leader, encouraging delegates like himself one or two years ago into leadership positions within the program. He says the title of Youth Governor will be a “big responsibility but one I gladly welcome.”

Ann Duan is a recent graduate of Henry M. Jackson High School who will be pursuing a degree in journalism and mass communications at George Washington University in Washington, D.C. this fall. She was a Herald intern last summer and enjoys writing and learning about education, history and civics.

Learn more

To learn more about Youth and Government Clubs in Snohomish County contact:

Everett: Sam Toft,; Stanwood: Maria Solis,; Marysville: Juan Cortez,; Monroe: Derrick Slocum,; and Mill Creek and Mukilteo: Ethan Harrington,

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