“You have the power. Never let it go.”
That’s the advice Congressman Antonio Delgado had for a cross-section of Middleburgh Central School students when he met with them Thursday.
Congressman Delgado also stopped at Schoharie Vo-Tec and Cobleskill-Richmondville on the trip through Schoharie County; Saturday he was back for a Middleburgh Town Hall and he served as guest speaker at Democrats’ FDR Spring Dinner.
At MCS, students representing AP History, student government and FFA quickly ran out of time for Congressman Delgado’s take on a long list of questions.
“It was good to hear what he thought,” Sidney Andrew said afterwards.
“He really talked a lot about what we can do. About how it’s important to know our power and use it. He’s a great speaker.”
Congressman Delgado shared his story of growing up focused on school, church, and basketball with the mostly-seniors, telling them he started college as pre-med before falling in love with philosophy—where he started getting straight A’s on a path that led him to Oxford University, Harvard Law School and hip-hop.
“My parents were confused,” he said to laughter about his five years sleeping on air mattresses as a hip-hop artist.
But Congressman Delgado told the students that it was all of those experiences that led him to “take off the golden handcuffs” of what had become a successful law career and run for elected office.
“I had to follow my heart,” he said, and he urged students to do the same.
After he turned the floor over to the students, Sidney was the first with a question, asking the Congressman his thoughts on the First Amendment, censorship, and free speech.
Congressman Delgado said he’d need more context—Sidney gave it to him afterwards in a brief one-on-one—but said he believes that when it comes to colleges and sometimes controversial speakers, it’s important to be exposed to different ideas—and then make your own choices.
“Go or don’t go,” he said.
“It’s not like we’re asking them to attend a Klan rally,” adding “You have to know your own beliefs, your moral compass…These are pretty important years…[college.]” in response to a question from Juliana Ryan, who asked about the best way to safely and effectively use the power he told them they have.
Allison Hunt asked about the kind of reasonable protections schools can take in light of school shootings; Congressman Delgado said he believes the answer isn’t to arm teachers, but instead, “We have to elevate the conversation and better educate ourselves on how to deal with the problem” by prioritizing and studying gun violence, much like’s been done with car fatalities.
“We need to get a better sense of what we’re not doing…to better protect you.”
Congressman Delgado urged the students to hold Congress and leaders accountable, especially over the things like climate change and college debt.
“If you do, if you speak up, you will be heard,” he said, pointing to the student activists who emerged after the Parkland shootings and the results of the mid-term elections.
“You can bridge the gap. You should never let go of your power. If you do, the world is yours. Help restore people’s faith in democracy.”