Published May 31, 2023
BY EMMA BROWN
Leon Panetta, the former Secretary of Defense and director of the CIA, spoke to the Carmel High School Public Policy Club on May 16, encouraging students to engage in the democratic process.
Expressing his desire for future generations to lead the country in a positive direction, the former director of the CIA spoke at length about the importance of youth political participation during a pivotal time in American history.
“You will inherit the future,” Panetta told students. “Whether or not you’re able to take on these challenges is going to determine whether or not the United States of America remains the strongest democracy on earth or whether we are a country in decline. So it’s for that reason that I’m really glad you’re here, you’re part of this group and that you’re showing an interest in the challenges that we face in our democracy.”
Incorporating current events into his discussion, the former Chief of Staff to President Bill Clinton discussed the importance of bipartisanship in the face of issues such as climate change, the debate over the debt limit, the war in Ukraine and political polarization. Yet Panetta remained hopeful that through strong leadership America will maintain its place as a beacon of justice and democracy on the world’s stage.
“I believe we could be a country where Democrats and Republicans work together to govern this country,” Panetta said. “That’s what our forefathers believed was the right way for our democracy to behave. Where people have different views, but listen to one another, to their thoughts about how to deal with issues and find compromise and consensus.”
Students were inspired by Panetta’s remarks, leaving the lecture with a renewed sense of passion for inspiring change.
“The key takeaway for me is that there is hope,” says Public Policy Club president Marcus Michie, who’s headed into his senior year at CHS. “So when you see issues like the overturning of Roe v. Wade, when you see issues like frequent mass shootings across the country, there is hope that change will occur and that things will be better soon. But that can’t happen without young people taking charge and leaving these political discussions and eventually hopefully taking these elected positions and making policy changes.”
The Public Policy Club has hosted a variety of speakers throughout the year, such as Democratic Congressman Jimmy Panetta, who represents California’s 19th district. In the two years since the club’s inception, members have spent their lunches on Tuesdays watching lectures from the Panetta Institute at California State University Monterey Bay, a foundation that was formed by Secretary Panetta and his wife, Sylvia.
Secretary Panetta’s attendance at the May 16 meeting represented a full-circle moment for the club, wrapping up the school year with an inspirational address.
“It was just such a great way to really culminate the year,” Michie says. “The Panetta Institute has really been supporting our club, and I think it’s what will actually keep our club going.”