Future leaders of America show us how differences don't have to divide us

Hundreds of young delegates with Junior State of America met in Costa Mesa with the goal of creating a more civil America.
COSTA MESA, Calif. (KABC) -- Politics can be a very divisive issue despite the subject.

Heated discussions - whether they're about the COVID-19 vaccine or climate change - often turn into angry confrontations. But high school students across Southern California know there's a better way to bridge differences.

Hundreds of young delegates with Junior State of America met in Costa Mesa this weekend with the goal of creating a more civil America, and they're giving us reason to hope.

"Junior State of America is the largest student-run organization in the country," said Keira Pender, the JSA Student Governor of Southern California who attends Westlake High School. "We are completely student-led. We have student leaders at every level. One of the main goals of JSA is to show kids how to work together in a polarized political climate."

During Spring State, debates and deep-rooted conversations touch on political topics and current events.

By bringing together large groups of students with diverse opinions and perspectives, the students can learn to approach problems with open-mindedness and practical solutions.

Spring State also the culmination of JSA's election cycle, where each JSA state elects its student leadership for the coming year.

"A large number of Americans voted in the 2020 election, but it's still so little compared to the amount it could be," said Eliza Booth, a JSA delegate from La Canada High School. "I think that that is really a result of political apathy. People not researching who their candidates are or not caring and being one issue voters. JSA is an organization that fights against hyperpolarization in the United States."

Hans Bach-Nguyen, who serves on the national cabinet at JSA and attends Camarillo High School, said a big part of the organization is learning how to present yourself with confidence.

"I think that's really successful in these types of debates," he said.

Pender said the debates range from discussing different forms of government to satire-filled discussions.

"We have a satire debate block where students can debate their favorite conspiracy theories," she said.

According to JSA, more than 500,000 students have graduated high school as more active and informed members of the community as a result of their participation the program.

"Other people don't believe that climate change can exist and that's difficult for me to reconcile, but there's no point in any action going forward if you aren't able to reconcile some differences, even differences that big," said Booth.

Bach-Nguyen believes this will help all the students grow.

"Seeing how other people are able to speak and kind of get to know different perspectives is a huge thing that is lacking in our current culture," he said. "Somehow that's happening in these different conference rooms with high schoolers."

"It does not have to be a screaming match. It really can just be a friendly conversation," said Booth. "You can talk about politics without getting angry, and I think that having adults realize that, and I think most of them do, and it's really important," said Booth.

"Every student here knows that as students, our voice matters, and that we can make a difference in our governments," said Pender. "JSA is nonpartisan, so anybody can come here with any opinion and talk about it."

Copyright © 2022 KABC Television, LLC. All rights reserved.