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The Racquet Press

The student news source of the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse

The Racquet Press

The student news source of the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse

The Racquet Press

U.S. Special Envoy for Global Youth Issues discusses impact of young voices in politics

Image from U.S. Department of State.

Special Envoy for Global Youth Issues, Abby Finkenauer visited the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse (UWL) on Thursday, Sept. 7 to discuss the exchange programs at UWL. Finkenauer sat down with The Racquet Press to discuss the impact of young voices in politics.  

Before Abby Finkenauer assumed her role as a Special Envoy for Global Youth Issues, she was one of the youngest women to be elected to the U.S. House of Representatives (USHOR), alongside Rep. Acasio-Cortez both at the age of 29. Prior to her tenure with the USHOR, she was a representative for the Iowa House of Representatives. 

After serving one term with the USHOR, Finkenauer found a new purpose serving in her role as the Special Envoy for Global Youth Issues. “[This role] is something that I would say has been very eye-opening and also just incredibly important,” said Finkenauer. 

The Office of Global Youth Issues began operation in 2010 after the rise of the Arab Spring, a series of anti-government protests, uprisings and armed rebellions that spread across much of the Middle East in the early 2010s. 

“If we are to be caring about democracy all over the world and even in our own country, we need to be talking to people who are the ones rising up and demanding change and demanding to be heard,” said Finkenauer regarding the importance of the Office of Global Youth Issues. 

Finkenauer explained, an Envoy is similar to an ambassador of an issue. “There are envoys for different issues and different topics. [As an envoy] you represent the United States and go out into the world and connect with different countries on that particular issue,” said Finkenauer. 

Being chosen by President Biden to take on the role of a Special Envoy for Global Youth Issues came as a surprise to Finkenauer. “I did not grow up accumulating stamps on my passport because I grew up in Iowa in a really small town,” she said. “I did not have much international experience at the time.” 

Finkenauer said, “I was told by the President and folks at the State Department [U.S. Department of State] that one of the main priorities when it comes to young people and that outreach is really trying to get young people, internationally but also here in the U.S., to go from thinking about the policies and caring about the policy to becoming policymakers themselves.” 

Given her background as a young representative and her childhood in rural Iowa, Finkenauer said, “It was important to show young people around the world that you don’t have to come from whatever traditional background someone thinks you should in your country to run or have your voice heard.” She continued, “When you’re not given a seat at the table, sometimes bring your own chair.”

Finkenauer became interested in international relations when she was in elementary school. “We would get a thing called the ‘Weekly Reader’, which was basically a new letter every week about what was happening in the world.” She continued, “I would realize real quickly that ‘Oh, what’s happening in my small town of Sherrill, Iowa, in my small agricultural community is impacting what’s happening overseas, but also what’s happening overseas is impacting us.’” 

Finkenauer explained how her idea of civic engagement was formulated at a young age while having political conversations with her uncles and grandfather. “There would be a lot of different opinions flying across the table, different ideas, and yet we would leave at the end of the night and hug each other and say, ‘Love ya, can’t wait to see you next week,’” she said. 

This same idea of civic engagement is what Finkenauer translates into her view of diplomacy. She said, “We don’t agree with everyone on everything, but that doesn’t mean you don’t have conversations about what matters or find those places where you do agree and can work together.” 

When asked why young people should care about international relations or politics in general, regardless of personal interest, Finkenauer said, “Well, it may not interest you, but people who are in politics or policy are interested in you.” 

She continued, “And so if you’re not at the table having the conversation then someone else is. Regardless of whether you think it’s interesting or not, you’re going to be impacted by it. So, it’s really important to have your voice heard.”

Finkenauer explained that the inclusion and representation of all viewpoints, backgrounds, and political affiliations are what make a representative democracy what it is. She said, “That’s why we need young people involved because everybody has a unique perspective and right now is the time too where it’s just so, so important.” 

She continued, “Young people often have some of the best ideas I’ve heard in a very long time as well and we need to keep elevating their voices.” 

For those young people who are feeling burnt out from politics and the political drama, Finkenauer said, “It’s important to not give up hope… Just stay involved and try not to get too discouraged because some of the best fights for justice that our country has ever had have taken decades.” 

Finkenauer said that every issue is a global youth issue. When asked more narrowly what the biggest global youth issue is, Finkenauer said, “Young people clearly care about climate change. Young people also care about education and mental health, but it’s more than that. Young people also care about national security and what’s happening around the globe.” 

She continued, “[Global youth issues are] really tied together and that’s actually something that I’m seeing young people understand. And why [the Office of Global Youth Issues] fight to make sure that [young voices] are being elevated in these spaces where they haven’t been traditionally seen or heard before.

Finkenauer visited UWL to speak on study abroad programs. “I would love young people who are seeing this to consider exchange programs. Study abroad. Or if you are an exchange student reading this think about how your experience is going to impact what you do back home,” she said. 

To end, Finkenauer said, “If you’re an American student reading this, please consider a career at the State Department. We need you and we need people from all around the United States and in particular the Midwest to make sure you’re also heard.” 

If interested in a career with the U.S. Department of State, you can visit 

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About the Contributor
Jenasea Hameister
Jenasea Hameister, Managing Editor
Year at UWL: Sophomore PGPs: He/Him/His Hometown: Sheboygan, WI Major: Political Science Minor: Communication Studies with an emphasis in Interpersonal Communication Other Campus Involvement: NSO Eagle Guide Future Plans after Graduation: Working at the Capitol in Madison Favorite Activity in La Crosse: Eating lots of great food Favorite Place to Eat in La Crosse: Super Street Taco
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