Captain America goes to the White House (to talk with high schoolers)
A Starting Point founders Chris Evans and Mark Kassen joined high school students and Biden administration officials for a conversation about climate, job creation, and civic engagement
In an effort to inspire more young people to take civic action, actors Chris Evans and Mark Kassen — co-founders of the nonpartisan youth civic engagement organization A Starting Point — joined White House officials today for a conversation with high school students from Maryland and Virginia. The Hollywood duo was introduced by White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre and moderated a panel with Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm and Deputy Treasury Secretary Wally Adeyemo.
The star-studded event gave the students an up close and personal view of life at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue at a time when young people’s trust in government is waning and as President Joe Biden struggles to gain support from young Americans.
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I often write about how celebrities and influencers can impact young people’s introduction to civics and politics. The initiative spearheaded by Evans and Kassen today, and their work with A Starting Point more broadly, is an example of the type of hands-on action that does exactly that.
“There’s a lot of people who will be coming of the age where it’s their first chance to participate in a democracy officially, and I think our goal of making sure that we can help demystify this a little bit in talking to you to help us demystify government, making people feel it’s a little more accessible, is really important to us,” Kassen told Jean-Pierre at the start of the forum.
In her message to the group, Jean-Pierre shared a bit about her daily routine (which starts with a 4am wake up), as well the value of representation and importance of having conversations with people you disagree with (prompted by Evans, who she referred to as Captain America, the role he’s best known for).
The brunt of the event featured Granholm and Adeyemo. The pair spoke about how they got their start in public service before taking student questions on energy, job creation, and opportunity growth for underserved communities.
All of the students are members of Close Up Foundation, a nonpartisan, nonprofit, civic engagement organization that helps provide young people with an intimate view of government and lawmaking.
Here were some of the students’ questions:
“How can federal policies address the disproportionate impact of climate change on minority communities and promote resilience, taking into account the environmental justice concerns specific to these communities?”
“Regarding your goal of zero net carbon waste by the year of 2050, how do you plan on achieving this goal with fast fashion over consumption and carbon emissions on a steady incline?”
“In the context of the administration's economic plans, how are efforts being made to create new job opportunities for younger people, from our generation, particularly in emerging industries?”
In response to that last one, Deputy Treasury Secretary Wally Adeyemo — who’s just 42-years-old himself and the first Black deputy treasury secretary (serving under the first female treasury secretary, Janet Yellen) — turned a question back to the students. He asked, “How many of you know exactly what you want to do for a living?,” to which a stunning amount of students in the room raised their hands, prompting surprise from the adults in the room.
Adeyemo emphasized that “more than anything” the administration is focused on “creating opportunities,” acknowledging the steep cost of higher education, and highlighting pathways beyond four year college programs. He said the administration is focused on getting young talent into new roles as quickly and affordably as possible.
“The truth is we can't wait for you to get out there and do some of the jobs that exist today, because that's going to be the key to us being able to meet our goals going forward, be it creating the plants that are going to build the next cutting-edge type of solar panels that we're going to put on houses, to thinking about artificial intelligence, to thinking about cybersecurity,” Adeyemo said. “These are all places where we need you to get out there right away. But the key is to create educational opportunities for you, and not each one of those require you to go to college. I can think of plenty of well paying jobs in America that allow you to grow and make a good living and to build a career without going to college. And our goal is to make sure that you have plenty of those opportunities going forward.”
For more from today’s event, check out these clips of student attendees from Dr. Henry A. Wise Jr. High School in Prince George's County, Maryland.