Representative O’Neal inspires students at Trinity forum

Mr.+Dunn+and+Seniors+%28clockwise+from+top+left%29+Emma+Malinak%2C+Lucie+Towers%2C+John+Trapuzzano%2C+Courntey+Dahlquist%2C+Michael+Dunn%2C+Ben+Hardy%2C+Ben+Kozak+and+Jacob+Sanders+listen+carefully+and+take+notes+as+Representative+O%27Neal+answers+their+important+questions.

Mr. Modrak

Mr. Dunn and Seniors (clockwise from top left) Emma Malinak, Lucie Towers, John Trapuzzano, Courntey Dahlquist, Michael Dunn, Ben Hardy, Ben Kozak and Jacob Sanders listen carefully and take notes as Representative O’Neal answers their important questions.

While the new year has ushered in a horizon of hope, the country remains in a state of division and uncertainty. In times like these, students and teachers look to government leaders for inspiration and guidance. But, it is easy for teenagers not only to feel far removed from the democracy they live in, but also to lose hope in the world they see developing around them. It is for this reason that civic engagement is encouraged in young adults, and why State Representative Tim O’Neal organized a forum to involve students in a political question and answer session. 

On January 21, eight Trinity seniors got the chance to virtually meet with Tim O’Neal, who represents the 48th District in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives. These students had the opportunity to ask essential questions, receive truthful answers and provide educated opinions about current political topics. 

“Representative O’Neal seemed to truly value our opinions as we will be the future leaders of our community,” Ben Kozak, attendee of the forum, noted as he described how O’Neal interacted with the panel of students in a formal, upfront manner.

“His genuine concern was obvious,” agreed Mr. Dunn, Assistant Principal who attended the forum and aided in guiding discussions. 

The ongoing pandemic was the source of many students’ questions, and O’Neal responded with candid reflections of Pennsylvania’s approach to safety. 

Concerning the distribution of the COVID-19 vaccination, O’Neal admitted that Pennsylvania has a lot of work to do; the state hasn’t received enough vaccinations from the federal government yet due to low supply, and the vaccinations that are available are being released slowly due to confusion and poor communication between health systems. Regardless, vaccine rollout is one of the current top priorities for the state government and O’Neal hopes the National Guard will establish emergency clinics soon to mass distribute the vaccine.

O’Neal also addressed the economic burden that the pandemic has placed on the state. Because of businesses closing for various periods of time and some shutting down completely, the state is receiving less tax revenue than ever before. Plus, existing budgets have been altered in order to allocate enough money for pandemic response measures. So, while schools remain a spending priority for the state, money is stretched tight and creative budgeting plans have to be enacted.

With the student forum occurring weeks after the storming of the Capitol and just one day after President Biden’s inauguration, political division was another topic prevalent in the students’ questions. 

When asked about the protests at the Capitol building that occurred on January 6, O’Neal asserted that violence is never an answer and that extreme political rhetoric is not productive or safe and needs to be toned down.

“We need to move away from the mentality of ‘my side is right, and your side is not only wrong, but also evil’… We all have a responsibility to ensure that we are not advancing this narrative,” O’Neal urged.

Overall, O’Neal stressed that it is important for students to get involved in politics, but in an educated and respectful way. He provided many strategies for making and expressing appropriate political opinions, including thinking critically about everything heard on television and social media, considering other points of view and objectively distinguishing between what is true and what is skewed. It is especially important for students to vote when they are of age and contact leaders of local government about their concerns to ensure that their voices are heard.

“Your future doesn’t lie down the road. It’s now… Seek truth, and be able to defend what you find,” said Dunn, expanding upon O’Neal’s request for young adults to become more civically engaged.

All who attended the forum can agree that Representative O’Neal has Washington’s best interest at heart and that he is working hard to ensure that the community is properly served and represented in the political arena.

Kozak summarized, “Representative O’Neal expressed that the main goal of politicians is to better the lives of the people they represent…. [he] just wants the best for his family and surrounding community.”