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Hall County students earn the chance to see the nations Capitol up close and personal
Alexandra Smith and Patrick Kelley stand in front of White House during a trip as part of the 46th annual Washington Youth Tour.

They may only be high school students, but Alexandra Smith and Patrick Kelley recently had the opportunity to rub elbows with the upper echelons of government.

The two Hall County students, along with 101 other Georgia students, spent a week earlier this month as participants in the 46th annual Washington Youth Tour.

"It was nice to be able to meet other (student leaders) like us," said Kelley, a rising Gainesville High School senior.

"Having that network of future leaders helps us to be even more effective in what we do in the future."

All in all, the tour consisted of more than 1,500 students representing 44 states. The trip was an all-expense paid "leadership experience sponsored by the electric membership corporations."

Kelley and Smith represented Jackson EMC. The students were chosen by Jackson EMC because they were the cooperative’s energy bowl and youth citizenship award winners.

On the tour, they visited sites like the Smithsonian Institute, Capitol and Supreme Court.

"I really enjoyed going to the Holocaust Museum," said Smith, a rising senior at West Hall High School.

"I’m really interested in learning more about human rights, that’s the focus of my history class (in the fall).

"The museum interested me because I wanted to learn more about how the world let the Holocaust happen and how we can prevent it from happening again."

They also observed a debate on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives and participated in a wreath-laying ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery.

"Many adults have never made the trip to D.C., nor have they had personal meetings and conversations with their elected officials," said Randall Pugh, Jackson EMC president and CEO.

"We’re honored to give these deserving students an experience where they will meet peers from across the country and learn firsthand of the sacrifices made by others in order for them to live in a free society."

Although they’ve both previously visited D.C., the students say this trip was more in-depth than the others. Both say that meeting with Georgia’s senators and representatives was a highlight of the trip.

"The people we met were just as important as what we saw during our trip," Kelley said.

"In meeting with our elected officials, they told us that no matter what we decide to do in life, to find a way to serve others."

"They also told us to shoot for our dreams," Smith said.

"They reminded us that there are so many opportunities out there for young people, we just have to go after them.

"They also told us to take a stand for whatever it is we believe in."