Our workweek has been crazy; we have two conferences within two weeks and there has been dozens and dozens of phone calls regarding possible health risks at each. To date, we are still moving forward with both events, but a dumb virus has made the process more of a challenge than it needs to be.
I find myself contemplating our youth conference and I feel sorry for those kids. Not because they are going to the conference, but because the event is not what it used to be. About a decade ago, we had over 1,200 high school students from across the state showing up. We would completely take over the Hyatt Regency in downtown Columbus and a large chunk of the convention center. Educational sessions with special guest speakers, display tables with charitable organizations seeking partnerships with teens looking to amass service hours were just two of the highlights to the event.
A Friday night charity dance would raise a couple thousand dollars for our charity of the year, a formal dance on Saturday night, gift basket raffles, a dozen competitions ranging from talent to oratorical contests added to the energy. Candidates for executive offices would caucus and students would be fully engaged in the election process. It was fun and exciting. You could literally feel the energy and enthusiasm of the group when you walked into the halls of the convention center.
Then the government got involved. Not directly, but transportation laws came into place, and students suddenly were required to take school buses to the conference. Parents were no longer allowed to carpool students to the event (other than their own), advisors could no longer rent passenger vans to transport seven to eight students. Instead they had to raise the funds to pay for the overtime, hotel and meal costs for the bus driver and additional costs associated with a trip.
For a small group of six to 10 students, the conference price could jump from $270 to $600 — $800. It’s hard to blame the students and advisors for not being willing — or able — to pay that sort of price, but it is frustrating. Made more so by the school districts being unwilling to allow several schools to ride together and split the costs. Most student organizations are facing the same challenges as we are and I wonder if someday, student focused conferences will be a thing of the past.
Some schools allow a loophole, and we see students arriving in limousines, their swanky rides being less expensive than state mandated transportation. I will never forget the time, a stretch Hummer pulled up to the hotel and half a dozen boys tumbled out dressed in white tuxedo’s, looking like they were auditioning for ZZ Top’s “Sharp Dressed Man” video. They made the long drive from Zanesville into an event, and an entrance to the convention designed to gain everyone’s attention. It was brilliant.
The convention is a quarter of what it used to be, we are at a smaller hotel and the energy is more of a buzz than a roar when you walk into the opening session. Caucus sessions are more subdued, and the elections are more sedate. The students still have fun, they still learn about service leadership and other life skills, but, somehow, it’s just less. The event doesn’t have the same diversity as before and the wow factor is gone. I don’t see students comparing their tiny rural schools of southeastern Ohio with the big city schools of Cleveland, or impromptu line dancing classes in the hotel hallways. On the plus side, we don’t worry about students sneaking off to visit campus or need to break up toga parties utilizing sheets pilfered from the rooms.
Come Sunday afternoon, all the attendees will be tired and hopefully the students and advisors will feel they have gained something from being there, a new skill, connection to resources or a friendship. I just wish they could take away — more.
Written and submitted by Sarah Roush for The Circleville Herald. The views of this column may not necessarily reflect that of the newspaper.