Berkeley youth fueled by hometown’s political heritage

The Berkeley Delegation at the annual Youth & Government Sacramento conference on President's Day weekend

By Shannon Miller

Tomorrow, the Berkeley City Council will recognize the Berkeley Delegation of Youth & Government for its accomplishments this year.

The YMCA’s California Youth & Government program is a model legislature and court for Californian high school students, which culminates every February with a conference in Sacramento where the state’s delegates get to take over the capital city for five days and practice the processes of government (known as Sac).

Berkeley has had a delegation involved in Y&G for a long time, but, over the past eight years, and under the direction of lead advisor Nathan Dahl from Berkeley High, the Berkeley Delegation has grown from just seven delegates when Dahl arrived in 2004 to nearly 70 in 2012.


While building a delegation from the ground up is by no means a process free from challenges and obstacles, the delegation’s accomplishments this year have proved just how much has been achieved since 2004. Berkeley delegates are driven by their passion to learn about, and experience, American government and their dedication to the Y&G program; this was exemplified across the board in all of the program areas delegates can choose to participate in.

Berkeley High's Nathan Dahl, right, lead adviser for the Youth & Government program, and outgoing senior Eli Wallach, former president of the delegation for the last two years

Berkeley Delegation’s Vice President, Berkeley High senior Sofi Cullen, inspired the delegation in her final year in the Senate & Assembly program by taking part in Y&G’s statewide elections, campaigning for the highly sought-after position of Speaker of the Assembly. Thanks to her experience in the Assembly, having been a successful sponsor of a popular bill to return the American motto from “In God We Trust” to “E Pluribus Unum,” and having chaired one of the legislative committees as a junior, Sofi won her election and represented Berkeley while presiding over the Assembly at this year’s ML/C.

Sofi’s election was not the only place that Berkeley distinguished itself in Y&G this year. Three other Berkeley delegates held leadership roles in the legislature, serving as Legislative Committee Chairs, a competitive appointed position. On top of that, Berkeley Delegates wrote four bills this year that went on to Sac to be debated, all of which passed in their committees, and two of which went on to pass in both the Senate and the Assembly before being signed by the elected Youth Governor, the student leader of the Y&G program.

In Y&G’s courts, Berkeley Delegates showed equal prowess; two students were chosen to participate in the Supreme Court and Judicial Review programs, while delegates in trial court fought hard as lawyers to win their cases.

One of Berkeley’s delegates was also selected to be a Governor’s Lobbyist, a member of the Youth Governor’s staff whose exceptional persuasive skills are put to use arguing for the bills the Governor deems high priority. Additionally, another Berkeley Delegation lobbyist received an Honorable Mention for Lobbyist of the Year.


Berkeley delegates at Berkeley's Old City Hall. The City Council will recognize the group's accomplishments at its meeting on Tuesday March 20

The dedication that this year’s Berkeley delegates have shown in each of their program areas did not stop after the closing session at Sac. There are a number of highly selective national summer programs wherein Y&G delegates can continue to practice the form of government in which they engaged in their statewide program, and Berkeley will have a number of its delegates representing our city and our state at these nation-wide conferences.

The Conference on National Affairs (CONA) is a two-week model legislature session on issues of national importance, held in North Carolina and open to delegates from Y&G programs in every state. A rewarding program with a competitive application process, a large number of delegates apply each year, of which only 25 are chosen; three Berkeley Delegates were selected this year to join this impressive and elite group. In addition to CONA, one of Berkeley’s third-year delegates and a veteran of Y&G’s court programs was accepted to attend the National Judicial Program, a mock trial and appellate court competition that will be held in Chicago this summer.

All of Berkeley’s delegates are fueled by their hometown’s politically passionate heritage to become informed and active citizens, engaged in the processes of government, through their participation in Y&G. Berkeley Delegation has proudly represented its city this year, and will certainly continue to do so in years to come.

Shannon Miller is a senior at Berkeley High School, where she is the Opinion Editor of the “Berkeley High Jacket” and the Public Information Officer for the Berkeley Delegation of the YMCA model legislature and court program, Youth & Government (Y&G).