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Capitol visit invites political thinking

Courtesy of Abigail Bender
PLHS students Caroline Williams, Vicky Wu, Abby Reilly, and PLSHS students Matisyn Froning and Abigail Bender, all 10th, pose in front of State Capitol.

Students Abigail Bender and Matisyn Froning were selected to represent Papio South on the Sophomore Pilgrimage to the State Capitol to learn about Nebraska’s government and becoming a leader. 

Prior to the trip, Bender had limited knowledge of how the state’s government operated.

“I knew a lot about the nation’s government, just not a lot about Nebraska’s government,” said Bender, who did not grow up in Nebraska. I knew it was a unicameral, but I didn’t really know how that worked as opposed to other states.” 

Froning was also mostly familiar with only the basics.

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“There are three branches and they make the laws. I actually didn’t know a lot about the state government until I went,” Froning said.

Karla Rupiper, president of Papillion’s Junior Woman’s Club, the organization that sponsors this gathering of Nebraska sophomores,  said  Bender and Froning and the others who participated were able to  experience all three branches of government in one place.

“It really is an adventure to be able to go to the State Capitol, because in that one building, you get an opportunity to see the state legislature in session, you get to meet either a Supreme Court judge or one of the Court of Appeals judges, and to see their courtrooms. You get to meet the governor,” Rupiper said. 

For Bender, experiencing a state legislative  session firsthand allowed a greater connection to people she previously had only seen on the news.

“Hearing the senators actually talk really stood out to me, because it made it feel like they were real people,” Bender said. “It made it feel like I was witnessing something that I had never seen before.”

Although Bender and Froning were given no context to the session they sat in on, Bender did her best to follow along.

“We came in, we sat down, and everybody was serious but passionate,” Bender said.

Froning said she would recommend listening to sessions like the one she  and Bender sat in on for minors wanting to get involved in politics.

“Listen to the hearings; they’re all public,” Froning said. “You can go and watch them or listen online.”

For Froning, her interest in politics has been focused primarily on the leadership aspect.

While on the trip, students got to visit the Governor’s Mansion.

“I’ve always been a leader and wanted to know more about how I could be a better leader,” Froning said.

Fortunately for Froning, leadership was a topic greatly emphasized  during the pilgrimage. 

“For every one of the speakers who talked to the group, it was clear that they wanted to impress on all the students that, even though they’re sophomores now, in a very, very short period of time, they will be the next leadership group to be stepping into the shoes of the existing state leaders and officials,” Rupiper said. 

After the pilgrimage, Froning felt inspired to go into government herself. 

“[The pilgrimage] makes you want to try to get into government because then you can change stuff,” Froning said.  “I have a vision of our state and how great it could be.”

The inspiration to go into politics was also influenced by some of the current government officials’ origins. 

“You can actually [be in government] if you really want to, because our governor used to live on a farm in the middle of nowhere and now he’s governor,” Froning said. “Anyone can do it. You just have to have influence and be a good leader.”

To select students from Papio South for the Sophomore Pilgrimage, guidance counselor Jim Whitcomb had interested sophomores  answer leadership-related essay questions. 

“Students who took the initiative to fill out the application and did a good job on it got rewarded  with an opportunity,” Whitcomb said.

State Capitol ceilingith an opportunity,” Whitcomb said.

The applications were originally used to decide who would represent the school at the Hugh O’Brian Youth Leadership Conference, but Whitcomb decided to use the same applications  for other leadership opportunities that came up, including the Sophomore Pilgrimage. 

“I knew that we had some motivated, intelligent, involved students who would represent our school well,” Whitcomb said.

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