by Josiah Young, SSI Program Administrator
”It would be impossible to [overstate] how impactful SSI was on me. It was essentially the catalyst for everything I’ve done over the past two years.” –Cole Birkeland (2015 SSI Alumnus)
Currently a student at the University of Northwestern St. Paul, Cole first attended MN Student Statesmanship Institute in 2014 as a House Track student. He then returned in 2015 for the Senate Track. Looking back on his SSI experience, Cole writes,
“SSI has substantially shaped the direction in which I’ve gone, and has given me valuable experiences.”
In reflecting, Cole identifies two specific ways SSI impacted him: his calling and his faith.
“It was at SSI that I feel I found my vocation, and synonymously revitalized my faith. Ever since, I’ve been doing everything I can to serve the community for good and ultimately, hopefully, serve the Lord according to his will.”
For Cole, serving the Lord and his community means pursuing a career in law and politics in order to fight for religious liberty. SSI helped him discover that passion, and it laid a foundation for the course he has now set.
Cole is not the only teen whose life was positively impacted at SSI. Many others, even those who have no interest in politics, have benefited immensely. After all, the purpose of SSI is not to turn students into politicians. The purpose is to inspire students to be men and women of integrity and courage who are leaders in their daily lives. This is the calling of every Christian. As Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount,
“You are the salt of the earth, but if the salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything . . .” (Mat. 5:13)
“[L]et your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” (Mat. 5:16)
How does SSI create this type of leader? By challenging students in their faith through powerful testimonies of local speakers, and by teaching students to think critically about the toughest social issues of our day. They learn that they can be true catalysts for change right where they are—at home, school, and work—for society changes only as people change.
As for Cole, he is “extremely grateful” for his time at SSI and hopes to come back—but this time as a team member, so that he can invest in other teenagers!
“I am extremely grateful for the time that I spent there, and for the impactful work that the program does.” –Cole