Madison (WKOW)-- Rainy and gloomy skies covered the Wisconsin State Capitol Sunday morning, forcing more than 2,000 students inside the capitol rotunda. Damp weather like this is typically known to ruin special events, but the 80th annual Wisconsin Association of School Councils Conference carried on without a hitch.
People walking by the capitol had no clue that inside the historic building 2,000 high school and middle school students from more than 200 communities were celebrating a momentous occasion.
"We've been meeting for 80 years. However, it's been 50 years since we've been here in Madison. This is actually our first time holding a rally at the capitol," Wisconsin Association of School Councils Executive Director Michelle McGrath says.
The conference features a variety of seminars, presentations and activities that teach students valuable leadership skills. The students range in age from 6th grade to high school seniors. To participate in the conference they have to either sign up themselves or get nominated by a teacher or coach. Most of the students are either student council members, honor society recipients or captains on their sports teams.
"As I look around and I look in your eyes, I see a lot of hope. I see a future that is really good for the state of Wisconsin," guest speaker Democrat State Senator Jon Erpenbach says to the crowd.
The event was held in Green Bay for the last 13 years. Before that, the city of Green Lake hosted the annual conference. Organizers with WASC say the state capitol provides an inspiring backdrop for the annual event.
"Some of the students that are here today, they've never been in the state capitol. They've never been to Madison. It's a big deal for them to be here," McGrath says.
During the rally, students were visited by a local celebrity who was actually in their shoes just a few years ago. Back then he was a middle schooler representing his fellow students. Now, he's a UW-Madison basketball player representing his university and the entire state at the national level at this years Final Four tournament.
UW Sophomore forward Sam Dekker was welcomed in classic UW fashion. Speakers blared the traditional "Jump Around" song as he walked to the podium to address the crowd of students. During his speech he reminisced about his time as a student leader in the program.
"Take everything in and just be a sponge of knowledge and pick up everything you learn. Try to apply it to everything in life," Dekker says.
While the students come from all corners of the state, they all have something in common, a passion for making a difference. Organizers say the whole point of the conference is to empower these student leaders so they can go back to their communities and share everything they've learned with their fellow classmates.
"It's really inspiring and motivating to show them it's okay to be a leader and it's okay to make a change in your own school and to step up and be that person," President of the State Senior High School Council Rachel Ley says.
Organizers with WASC say they are already scheduled to host their conference in Madison again next year. They're hoping to make it their official host city for the conference and hold an annual rally at the capitol to kick things off.
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