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Teen selected to participate in UVA democracy summit

Students from the 42 states, the District of Columbia and 23 countries will assemble at the University of Virginia next week for a lesson in democracy as part of America’s 400th anniversary commemoration.

Suffolk student Kathryn Babineau, a rising junior at King’s Fork High School, will be among them. She was invited to apply, and after submitting an application that included her GPA, references and signature from her principal, was chosen as one of the participants.

“I’m just really looking forward to it and can’t wait to go,” she said.

Starting Aug. 8, the students will participate in the International Youth Democracy Summit, which is the first in a year-long series of conferences sponsored by the Jamestown 400th Federal Commission, in conjunction with U.Va.’s Center for Politics and Presidential Classroom.

More than 400 students applied, though only 300 were accepted for program, including some from Vietnam, Pakistan, Bulgaria, Ethiopia, China and South Korea, said Stan Cahill, senior director for marketing for Presidential Classroom.

The Summit brings together groups of young leaders for an educational and interactive experience in democracy and leadership. The students will explore the future of democracy through visiting its origins in Jamestown, Williamsburg and Monticello, according to a press release. Leading historians and government officials, including Karen Hughes, under secretary of state for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs, Dan Roberts, host of National Public Radio’s A Moment in Time and Larry Sabato, director of U.Va.’s Center for Politics and professor of politics at the university, will facilitate the sessions.

Timothy J. Sullivan, president emeritus of William & Mary and chairman of the Conference Series Planning Council, said the Summit will be an ideal occasion for kicking off the democracy series.

“Representative government in America began at Jamestown, and many of our nation’s democratic ideals and institutions n including the rule of law, free enterprise and cultural diversity n trace their roots to that remarkable beginning.” Sullivan said. “We expect an inspiring and instructive exchange of ideas.”

Babineau said because she comes from a family of history buffs, she has been to Jamestown and Williamsburg often, and Monticello once. But more than the actual locations, Babineau is interested in the discussions about early democracy, she said.

Sabato said the four days are designed to stimulate such discussion and debate.

“This summit presents a timely opportunity to engage hundreds of stellar young minds in questions related to our form of elected government,” he said.

“While these issues relate to our earliest days of self-government, they also have a contemporary context, one that I look forward to exploring with both American students and our guests from overseas.”

Cahill said the students will often split into groups of about 40 to wrestle with different issues as part of the academic work of the Summit.

Seminar topics include: government and the importance of civic engagement; Thomas Jefferson, democracy and liberty; Monticello Tour; Virginia Indian presentation with the chair of the Virginia Council of Indians; the life of Frederick Douglass; and guided tours of the Jamestown settlement, historic Jamestown, Colonial Williamsburg and the College of William & Mary.

Babineau was initially interested in the Summit for two reasons:

“I have always had a really big love of history,” she said; and she has always wanted to visit U.Va.

Babineau is looking forward to meeting other students who share a love of history, and she said she is hoping the Summit will give her a taste of what a career in international business might be like.

At least eight other conferences on a range of topics related to democracy will be held at Virginia college and university sites as part of the Commission’s “International Conference Series on the Foundations and Future of Democracy.”

The series will culminate in September 2007 when world leaders, scholars on democracy, and political practitioners and commentators gather in Williamsburg and Jamestown for the World Forum on the Future of Democracy, according to a press release.

The Center for Politics is an interdisciplinary, non-partisan, nonprofit organization dedicated to the proposition that government works better when politics works better, and that happens when citizens are informed and active participants.

The Presidential Classroom is an organization that works to provide the highest quality civic education programs for outstanding high school students.

ashley.taylor@suffolknewsherald.com