The students learned about the election process, government and the importance of voting, while celebrating living in the United States.
The Walker Valley Freshmen Ladies choir sang a medley of patriotic songs, while performing on a stage decked out in red, white and blue.
Cleveland Mayor Tom Rowland told students that every vote is important. He reminded students that many elections this year have been won by only a few, or even one vote. There will always be a candidate someone likes better than the other, Rowland said.
“I always thought voting should be mandatory,” Rowland said. “Don’t ever say none of the above. Just cast your ballot for one of them.”
Rowland, the longest serving mayor of Cleveland, stressed to students the importance of using their right to vote when they come of age.
“The biggest voting block percentage-wise in our United States are the members of the military ... I wonder why. Could it be that they know what a privilege it is to vote?” Rowland asked his young listeners.
He said in many countries, simply trying to vote can put a person in danger.
Members of the military were honored during the assembly and students planning to join the military were recognized. To honor military personnel, the Walker Valley Concert Choir prerecorded the song "The Soldier," which was played during the recognition.
“Voting is an amazing right, but it’s not only a right ... it’s your duty,” former chairman of the Bradley County Republican Party Jonathan Cantrell said.
Cantrell said he has voted in every election since he was 18.
In addition to being reminded of the importance of voting in their first election about four years from now, students also learned more about the local political process. Bradley County Trustee and former Bradley County Commissioner Mike Smith explained the role of his office and the Commission. Smith explained how decisions by the Commission, particularly the finance committee, affect students directly, as they discuss funding the needed addition to Walker Valley.
“Whether it’s at the local level or at the state level, every decision that is made by your elected officials affects you,” Smith said.
The trustee explained how property taxes directly benefit the students.
“Out of every dollar collected in county property tax, 58 cents goes to county and city schools debt and county schools operational costs,” Smith said.
Getting involved in the political process was also encouraged.
The mayor urged the freshmen to consider running for public office in the future.
“The most nerve-racking time for the candidates is election day when the votes are being counted,” Rowland said.
Cantrell also encouraged the students to get involved in the political process in some way, whether running for a post, working on a campaign or getting involved locally with a political party.
Every high school student is required to take a U.S. government course before they graduate.
State Sen. Mike Bell gave the students a pop quiz on their legislators and political leaders before explaining what he does as a senator.
Bell said the first bill he ever introduced started as a suggestion from high school students in McMinn County. The bill was later passed and became state law. The law gives individual school boards discretion as to whether ethnic names can be used for sports teams.
Another bill affecting students that has passed into law with Bell’s support was making texting while driving illegal.
Students in the DECA Club and marketing classes also participated in the event by promoting it among the students and decorating the auditorium. All freshmen were encouraged to wear patriotic colors.