Georgia 4-H students from across the state met at Rock Eagle 4-H Center in Eatonton, Georgia, June 26-28 to learn more about what it means to be an American with the right to vote. The students also elected a new crop of student-leaders for the state’s largest youth organization, annually serving more than six million youths.
Each Georgia county sent voting delegates to the statewide event to elect a president, vice president, district representatives and two at-large representatives.
Formally called “Georgia 4-H State Council,” the weekend of events centering on citizenship has been held since 1959, when then-Georgia 4-H Leader Harald Darden created the program. During an official citizenship ceremony held the last day, senior 4-H members pledged to become engaged Americans, to vote and to make a difference in their communities.
Following the ceremony, former Washington County 4-H’er and Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal addressed the group.
“I have fond memories of Rock Eagle and of 4-H. It’s where I discovered a little bit about who I am and who I could be,” said Deal, who, as a 4-H’er, grew 135 bushels of corn on an acre plot in the corn demonstration competition. “You never leave 4-H, by the way. And there’s always a way for you to still be a part of Georgia 4-H.”
Deal encouraged the group of young Americans to remember, “democracy is our way of protecting liberty.”
“It will be in your hands to protect the freedoms that our forefathers gave us,” Deal said. “We are Americans. We’ve had problems in our history that we’ve overcome. We have to stop focusing on what makes us different and concentrate on what makes us the same.”
Georgia State 4-H Leader Arch Smith also encouraged the students to “live the ideals that our forefathers built this country on.”
“If you work hard and do the right thing, you will have a good life,” said Smith, who first participated in the ceremony in the 1970s as a Georgia 4-H’er in Warren County.
“I would say that the citizenship ceremony is one of the highlights of the 4-H year for me, personally,” he said. “It is a reminder to all who participate to value our freedom and voting rights, which allow Americans to participate in our governance.”
The newly elected Georgia 4-H State Board members are Ben Lord, of Ben Hill County, president; Elizabeth Hanson, of Pike County, vice president; Maggie Plott, of Union County, state representative; Zach Tellano, of Hart County, state representative; Trent Whisenant, of Murray County, state representative; Mackinzie Wurst, of Clarke County, Northeast District representative; Carrianna Simmons, of Spalding County, Northwest District representative; Julie Bacon, of Tattnall County, Southeast District representative; and Ben Murray, of Berrian County, Southwest District representative.
To learn more about the Georgia 4-H program, go to Georgia4H.org.
(Sharon Dowdy is a news editor with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.)