4-H Congress

4-H Congress

In March of 2022, the 75th 4-H Congress took place in Nashville and Murfeesboro, Tennessee, and featured delegates from all 95 counties. The event included mock-legislative sessions in the state capital, visits with legislators, and a ride on the famous General Jackson showboat. Unless you’re a 4-Her, you are probably wondering what 4-H Congress even is, and what its purpose is.

To start, Congress is an educational experience that takes place over the course of four days (for delegates) in Nashville and Murfeesboro. Delegates learn about Tennessee government and the legislative process, and are able to see the sights of Nashville. In addition, delegates also learn about elections and civic involvement, having the chance to vote and campaign for office.

Two groups of people attend 4-H Congress. Delegates and portfolio finalists. The majority of attendees are delegates, who are randomly sorted into two groups: senators and representatives. On the first night, delegates arrive at the Embassy Suites Hotel in Murfeesboro, where they check-in and enjoy a dinner theater (put on by the 4-H performing arts troupe and portfolio finalists who arrived the day before). The next morning, Delegates participate in mock-legislative sessions, in which they debate and vote on actual bills in the actual TN Senate or House Chamber. Presiding over these sessions are the Speaker of the House and Speaker of the Senate. These officers were elected by the delegates at the previous congress, with senators electing the Senate Speaker and representatives electing the House Speaker. In addition, all delegates vote for the Congress Governor, who presides over the entire event.

Following mock-legislative sessions, delegates participate in some sort of activity at the Avon Williams campus of TSU (just a short walk from the capital). This year, the activity was a scavenger hunt in downtown Nashville. Delegates broke into groups and took pictures of famous Nashville sites, including the Ryman Theater, AT&T (batman) building, and John Lewis mural.

Next, delegates got into county groups and traveled to the Cordell Hull office building, where they met their senators and representatives. Delegates can ask questions about the life of a legislator, and learn more about how laws are passed.

For the remainder of the day, delegates in their county groups are able to explore Nashville and eat dinner, before boarding the bus and heading back to the hotel. That night, candidates deliver a speech before the delegation, and delegates fill out a voter registration card.

The next morning, delegates vote for their preferred candidate with actual voting machines. Before voting, delegates are required to provide an ID in the form of a voter registration card. Following this, the winners are announced, and delegates board the buses for a ride on the General Jackson.

Riding on the General Jackson is one of the best experiences at Congress. Delegates eat lunch inside the vessel and enjoy a live band and country music show. You can sit back and relax on the deck as the Cumberland River rolls by.

Back at the hotel, delegates get dressed in formal clothing and attend the Citizenship Banquet. This year, Tennessee Governor Bill Lee opened the banquet with remarks on the impact 4-H has had on his life.

Typically at the banquet, several other guest speakers are honored, and portfolio winners are named. The banquet is attended by the Congress delegation, 4-H staff and alumni, and government officials.

Once the banquet is over, 4-Hers are able to enjoy the final event of Congress: the dance. Late into the night, delegates from all over the state are able to cut the rug and boogie down (DJ included).

Now, portfolio winners (the other group attending Congress) have a slightly different experience. First off, a 4-H portfolio is a record of all 4-H activities relevant to a certain project. To attend Congress as a portfolio winner, you must be a state finalist in either the leadership or citizenship project. Winners arrive one day early, and play a part in the opening night dinner show. The next day, before delegates arrive, portfolio finalists are interviewed by a panel of judges, and state winners are announced at the citizenship banquet. Winners do not participate in legislative sessions, and are typically second or third year attendees.

Overall, 4-H Congress is a fun, educational, and unforgettable experience. Interested in attending 4-H Congress? Contact the Loudon County Extension Office at 865-458- 5612 for details regarding next year’s Congress.