Teens chosen for 2023 youth tour
GYT winners

Johnique ‘J.T.’ Thomas, left, a junior at Manor Early College High School and Tara Williams, right, a junior at Colorado River Collegiate Academy in Bastrop, have been chosen to represent Bluebonnet Electric Cooperative at the 2023 government youth tour this summer in Washington, D.C. Emma Smith, center, a senior at Lexington High School, is the alternate representative. Sarah Beal photo

High school students will represent Bluebonnet on annual trip this summer to Washington, D.C.

By Sidni Carruthers

Two high school students with lofty career goals have been selected to represent Bluebonnet Electric Cooperative on the annual government youth tour this summer in Washington, D.C. They will join hundreds of other students representing electric cooperatives from across Texas and the nation for a 10-day visit to the nation’s capital.

Johnique ‘‘J.T.’’ Thomas, a junior at Manor Early College High School, and Tara Williams, a junior at Colorado River Collegiate Academy in Bastrop, were selected to represent Bluebonnet. Emma Smith, a senior at Lexington High School, is the alternate representative who would join the tour if one of the winners is unable to attend.

Thomas and Williams will each receive a $1,000 scholarship in addition to the all-expenses paid Government-in-Action Youth Tour planned for June 11-19. While in D.C., the students will visit historic sites and the U.S. Capitol, meet members of Congress and attend events hosted by the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association. 

The recipients were selected in March from among 19 applicants. 

Thomas, 17, of Manor, is a standout athlete for the Manor Mustangs and is excited about playing college football after he graduates from high school in 2024. He plays center and has been a captain of the football team for the last year. Thomas is parliamentarian for the school’s National Honor Society and director of community service for the school’s Leo Club, the youth organization of the Lions Club. 

After college, Thomas hopes to become a maternal-fetal medicine physician — an obstetrician with three additional years of training who specializes in high-risk pregnancies. This became his career goal, he said, when he learned that pregnancy is more risky in the United States than in other high-income nations. He also wants to better understand how government impacts health care.

Williams, also 17, of Bastrop, is the student council president at the collegiate academy and serves on the school’s student superintendent advisory council. In 2021, she reached the district level of University Interscholastic League speech and debate competitions. She credits those competitions with giving her confidence in public speaking and critical thinking, as well as the ability to respect others’ opposing opinions.

Williams participates in competitive dance through Liberty Dance Center in Bastrop. 

She plans to attend a four-year university to study architecture with a career goal of preservation and conservation of historic buildings. She has always loved historic architecture, she said, adding that it saddens her “to see historic homes and buildings that are abandoned or deteriorating.” 

Smith, 18, of Lexington is involved in several school organizations, including the National Honor Society and student council. She volunteers at her church, is active in the Lee County 4-H program and volunteers weekly at the local senior citizens center. Smith plans to attend Sam Houston State University in the fall to study political science and legal studies, with hopes of becoming an attorney and lobbyist in the oil and gas industry.

This will be the first visit to Washington, D.C., for both Thomas and Williams. 

Thomas wants to see the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. “I wrote about [the memorial] in a short essay about my great uncle who was sent to Vietnam and never came back,” the Manor student said. “I always heard stories about him and the person he was, and he has been a role model to me even though I never got to meet him. He is the man I want to grow up to be.” 

Connecting to military history in D.C. is also on Williams’ list, because her family has ties to the armed forces. But she is most interested in seeing Capitol Hill and some of the city’s many museums, she said, describing herself as a “museum nerd.”

On their youth tour applications, students were asked to list their school accomplishments, extracurricular activities, leadership experience and community service work. They were also asked to submit a video in which they answered the question: “What is the greatest energy issue facing your generation, and how can youths be a part of the solution?” 

During his video, Thomas spoke of the nation’s reliance on fossil fuels and, more specifically, how that impacts communities and families with low incomes. “The rising prices of energy have a direct hand in the rising cost of everything else, which I am seeing playing out in my community,” he said. The solution for this, he proposed, is accessibility to renewable energy options for those communities and families. 

In her video, Williams also touched on energy insecurity in local communities, and referenced severe weather in the region in recent years that has led to energy emergencies. “It is [my] generation’s duty and responsibility to collaborate with industry experts, as well as lawmakers, so that we can work towards ending energy [insecurity] for good,” she said.

Before leaving for D.C., the two Bluebonnet student representatives will join other tour members from across the state for a visit to the Texas Capitol and the Bullock Texas State History Museum in Austin.

This is the 57th year for the youth tour program. It has more than 50,000 alumni, including CEOs, state and national elected officials, and countless business and community leaders.