(Note to readers: This is an edited version of the speech Emma Metz presented after being selected to represent Indiana on the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association’s Youth Leadership Council during last June’s Youth Tour.)
“Here we mark the price of freedom” are the words etched on the wall of the National World War II Memorial in Washington, D.C. Alongside these words are 4,000 golden stars, each star symbolizing 100 American deaths during the war fought on battlefields around the world.
I was proud to pose in front of the Indiana pillar for a photo which will remind me again and again of the sacrifices Hoosier soldiers made to make our world a better place.
Although we visited many impressive monuments and memorials when I was in D.C., the memorials from World War II and the Vietnam War impacted me more than anything else I saw.
At the Vietnam Memorial Wall, it was overwhelming to see the names of so many soldiers that were missing, had died or had been prisoners of war. You could reach out and touch the names, touch the wall, see the vague reflection of your hand in the dark stone.
I knew that many people sacrificed their lives for freedom and our country, but I only knew it in a distant way. It was only stories on a page before Youth Tour. After visiting these two memorials, it is no longer an abstract concept in my mind and will never be again. These memorials are a constant reminder of Americans who made changes for the better and fought hard for things they believed in.
Dedicated soldiers aren’t the only people who fought to make our future brighter. What about individuals like Harvey Hull, Morris Cooke and President Franklin Roosevelt who worked tirelessly to establish co-ops which would bring electricity to rural areas?
My grandma loves to share stories about her life before the “lights came on.” One of her favorite stories is how her family received electricity on their farm. As Grandma tells it, workers from their local electric co-op came to the house to make a deal. If her dad would allow the co-op linemen to put poles on their land, the co-op would hook up the farm with electricity for free!
Electricity offered new and exciting things for her family: lamps eased eye strain from sewing and reading; refrigerators kept food and drinks cold; and later, electricity brought the world into their living rooms through a strange and wonderful thing called television.
It took many people with vision and energy working together to make the dreams of affordable electricity for rural areas a reality. Our electric co-ops have brought us a long way from a house with a single light bulb dangling from the ceiling, and they are still moving us forward.
Almost 75 years after the local cooperative made an investment in my grandmother’s family farm, Bartholomew County REMC, Indiana Statewide Association of RECs and NRECA have invested in me and young leaders across the country through this great experience called Youth Tour.
I know there are occasional questions about my generation’s competence, but I am confident that when we’re called upon we will be ready — and willing — to lead. This was evident during our visit to Capitol Hill and meetings with our congressmen. Our Youth Tour participants were unafraid to question our politicians’ plans for an uncertain future and were looking for answers to our nation’s greatest challenges.
While on Youth Tour, we witnessed the price of freedom everywhere we looked around Washington. And I promise that our generation will labor to preserve it.
I am constantly impressed with the wealth of freedom that we Americans possess. We may take our freedom for granted, ignore it or abuse it, but that doesn’t change the fact it exists and that people have worked hard and given their lives to protect it.
We must be willing to continue taking initiative and working together to make our best even better. Our freedom shapes us and enables us to do extraordinary things.
As long as there are people in our country — in any country — that are hungry or sick, are without water or lights, or without education, we must find a way to help. We have extraordinary examples to follow in our soldiers who have fought many battles and cooperative pioneers who brought electricity to my grandma’s farm to give her a brighter future.
Freedom isn’t free, and liberty isn’t an excuse for us to do nothing. Important discoveries and advancements are still to be made. All of the people in need haven’t been helped. We still need leaders, workers and problem solvers. Youth Tour solidified our commitment to be part of these advancements.
Emma Metz is a home-educated student finishing her high school senior requirements and attending Indiana University-Purdue University in Columbus. She will continue her YLC experience at the national electric cooperative annual meeting in San Diego in March where she will assist NRECA staff and meeting goers. Her family’s home is served electrically by Bartholomew County 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 approaching.