(Note to readers: This is an edited version of the speech Nick Hebert presented after being selected to represent Indiana on the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association’s Youth Leadership Council during last June’s Youth Tour. Nick was runner-up in the YLC speech competition.)
As a naive second grader, moving from my childhood home in Dallas, Texas, all the way across the country, made me confident my parents had gone crazy. They had no clue what this would do to my social status in a world of 8-year-olds. I was adamant that I would never have friends again. Robert C. Gallagher once stated the lesson I had yet to learn as a culture-shocked kid, “Change is inevitable — except from a vending machine.”
Because of my parents’ diligence in teaching me what it takes to be the best me, I learned a simple lesson: Make something out of the change you have been given — before it makes something out of you.
As the 2010 Youth Tour departed from Indianapolis and headed for Washington, D.C., I had not the slightest clue that a huge change would be in order for me. The same lessons of change that I had learned throughout my life were once again in front of me— staring right at me as I stood at the feet of some of the most awe-inspiring sites this country has to offer.
This refinement of character was what I desired as I stood at the Lincoln Memorial and wondered what it took to make America’s greatest president from a simple, self-educated, log-cabin farm boy from Spencer County, Ind. I gazed into the famous picture, Declaration of Independence by John Trumbull, in the Capitol rotunda and realized the change I needed was present in a room of men who had transcended personal ambitions and security for that of a greater cause.
More than any other experience, though, the sacred opportunity to be at the Iwo Jima Memorial parade brought tears down my face as I recognized the change that had transformed six average young men, not much older than myself, into heroes as they hoisted that red, white and blue flag.
In each of these heroes’ case, they were never the smartest men, the most charismatic individuals, or even the bravest soldiers. Two basic principles created change in these men.
The first is that while others allowed their environment to affect them, these men made the first move and created their own change. The second principle was taught by our Youth Tour Rally key note speaker, Mike Schlappi. He taught us that changing mediocrity to greatness is our responsibility, or better yet, our ability to respond.
Consider these two principles when we think about the founding fathers of our energy industry and how they sought change in a way that no others had done before. They saw a need for a cooperative effort amongst Americans to bring the transformation of electricity to rural America. They saw an opportunity to improve their environment and used innovation to respond to accomplish this.
Just as our pioneers of rural electricity did, we stand at the forefront of an ever-changing day, and we must adapt accordingly. This industry is not a field of stagnant growth or an industry of complacency; we are the innovators of our future. We hold the keys to lead our nation into tomorrow by providing fair, affordable and achievable energy.
I am confident that the secret to the success of America lies in the time-tested principles that electric cooperatives provide. Those principles are easily evident in the title of “co-operative.” The secret is that our country must become an “American cooperative” — for the people and by the people.
The Iwo Jima parade illustrated this idea with perfect clarity. The Marine Commodore band played “Amazing Grace” while the wind blew softly against that flag. In a moment of understanding, I envisioned four men in the front, Ira, Franklin, John and Harlon, running on top of that bullet-ridden hill. They must have known their grave danger, yet they pushed on. In a moment of brotherhood, two more men, Michael and Rene, locked in behind their brothers to support them as they hoisted her colors for all to see. Do you think that as they ran up that deadly hill, they ever turned to each other to question whether right or left wing, liberal or conservative, Republican or Democrat? They would not. They could not. In that moment, they were all Americans, and that was all that mattered.
I pray that as we look to the future, we can run up our own Iwo Jima hills when asked, and not question party, race or beliefs. I am confident that as we practice the cooperative belief of being American, this country will achieve its goal for each and every citizen: Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness.
Thank you, and God bless America.
Nick Hebert is a senior at Floyd Central High School. He will continue his YLC experience at the national electric cooperative annual meeting in Orlando in March where he will deliver the invocation to begin one of the day’s sessions. His family’s home is served electrically by Harrison REMC.
If you are currently a high school junior interested in the Youth Tour to Washington, D.C., this June — or know one who might be, contact your local electric cooperative. Application deadlines are coming soon.