What Happens at a Junior State Overnight Convention?
During the Fall State and Spring State conventions, students engage in a variety of activities including debates, thought-talks, mock trials, and other simulations which critically examine the political landscape. Students can choose from several different topics and activities that are offered in each “activity block” during the conventions. The conventions feature keynote speeches from prominent policymakers who not only present their viewpoints, but also interact with the audience during question and answer sessions. Students get a chance to relax in less formal settings in the evenings with dances, quiz bowls, talents shows and other social and fun activities.
What style of debate is used at the conventions?
Debates serve as the cornerstone of the Junior State by giving delegates a forum to express their views in an orderly fashion, while promoting a clash of ideas that leads to deeper understanding of controversial issues. Using parliamentary debate style, delegates develop political awareness, attitudes and public speaking skills through participation.
JSA debates center around “resolutions” that outline the issue being discussed. For example, “resolved, Social Security should be privatized.” Debates begin with six-minute opening speeches by the main affirmative and negative speakers. These two debaters are selected prior to the convention; they research and prepare their arguments beforehand. A pre-selected student moderator guides the action following the opening speeches, where any student in the audience may volunteer for three minute subsequent speeches in support of either side. Download the Junior State Debate Handbook from the Virtual Library for a complete guide to debating in the Junior State.
Students vote for the “Best Speaker” at the end of each debate. The main focus of Junior State debate is, however, on persuading the audience and imparting a greater understanding of the issues involved ,rather than competition between speakers.
What if a student is not comfortable in a formal debate setting?
Thought talks are student-led discussions on pressing issues or questions. These activities don’t have the formal structure of a debate and allow students to explore issues in-depth, in a less confrontational setting. A moderator guides the participants by posing questions and offering facts about the topic; however, students will have an open opportunity to express their thoughts and let their comments take the discussion in many different directions. No main speakers are chosen for Thought Talks, and no awards are given. This pressure-free atmosphere engages students very differently than debates and helps students gain confidence with their public speaking skills.
Elections of Junior State Officers
Spring State conventions feature dramatic and exciting “political convention style” elections for Junior State offices. Students gain valuable leadership and organizing skills when running for JSA offices. As a truly student-run organization, JSA depends on its members to seriously vet the candidates for each office and select student leaders who have the talent, dedication, creativity and enthusiasm to led the organization to new heights each year. Passionate speeches, colorful posters and boisterous chants fill the convention halls as candidates appeal to their peers for support. Although there can be only one winner, JSA is known for involving all candidates in the leadership of the organization in the following year. More than a competition, JSA elections are a celebration of a democratic process founded upon honesty, ethics and a deep commitment to the mission of JSA.
Keynote Addresses and Political Fairs
Are there adult speakers at the conventions?
Distinguished politicians, statespersons, journalists and public policy experts are invited to address JSA conventions. Past speakers range from Pat Roberston to Ralph Nader to Colin Powell to Joe Trippi and others across the political spectrum. Students have the opportunity to meet and pose questions to key figures from the world of politics. In addition, some conventions feature Political Fairs that enable students to meet representatives of lobbying and political groups and get to ask questions regarding their policies and views. In recent years, our Political Fairs have included groups like the National Rifle Association & Handgun Control Inc., NARAL Pro-Choice America & the National Right to Life Organization, the Republican, Democratic, Green, Libertarian and other political parties.
In addition to debates and thought talks, Junior State of America conventions include a variety of other activities. Mock trials allow delegates to explore our nation’s judicial system and examine how legal and constitutional controversies are resolved in the United States. Simulations of city council and school board meetings help students grapple with local governance issues. These and various other political seminars give students a wide-range of ways to get involved.