Although the congressional floor in Washington D.C. may appear tumultuous today, the up-and-coming future leaders and politicians are demonstrating a different perspective to get things done. This is exactly what transpired at the nation’s first-ever Student-Led Constitutional Convention in the United States.

The groundbreaking Model Constitutional Convention was hosted by Arizona State University’s Center for Constitutional Design. From hundreds of applicants, the Convention selected 110 student delegates from over 70 different Universities and colleges across the nation. (coincidentally, exactly twice the number of 55 delegates who appeared at the original constitutional convention in 1787). Students then traveled to ASU’s Downtown Phoenix campus to participate.

Aleksia Minetos speaking on an amendment
Aleksia Minetos speaking on an amendment

Of the students selected nationwide to honorably serve as delegates, the Convention’s Admissions Committee selected four student-delegates from The University of New Mexico. UNM’s delegates included: Alexsia Minetos, Gareth Ripol, Edward Spalione, and Nectaria Kurth. Additionally, the Constitutional Convention's teaching/mentoring faculty committee included The University of New Mexico’s Professor Lawrence Jones, who teaches Constitutional Law at UNM.

“The fact that four students from University of New Mexico were chosen to participate reflects highly on not only the students but on UNM itself, and the performance of all students in the UNM constituency was outstanding and admirable,” said Jones.

In terms of student representation, UNM ranked as one of the top universities among ASU, ASU Law, Harvard University, and University of Texas at Austin as having four or more student representatives. Coincidentally, this event took place on the starting date of the original Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia, May 25, 1787.

One of the many important goals of the convention was to help educate the student delegates through actions and experience on how the process for potentially amending the Constitution works. This included working collaboratively with other student-delegates from across the nation; learning through flexibility to build working relationships with delegates who often at the start shared different views on different issues, and practicing the art of effective negotiation and compromise.

"It was an incredible opportunity to connect and collaborate with so many students, each with a unique background and interests that informed their amendments and reasoning for submitting them,” said student Minetos. “I entered keeping an open mind to everyone's opinions and ideas, which I am grateful for because we truly were able to achieve consensus on four amendments.”

At the conference, each student delegate was assigned to represent the interests of a randomly selected state or territory and was then assigned into groups of 10-person committees to function as a unit in proposing, developing and debating potential constitutional amendments for possible presentation before the full convention for a vote on passage. Many students were assigned to states/territories which they had very limited knowledge on.

“I wasn’t aware of what other states were concerned with, and at the convention I learned a lot from someone who was from Kentucky, and it was interesting to me to see where his values lied for his state,” said Minetos.

Delegate team committees discussed multiple potential amendments — everything from term limits for the U.S. Supreme Court justices to regulating horse racing (proposed by Kentucky delegates).

“I was blessed to be on a committee with incredibly open-minded individuals, and the convention was focused on driving change, even if it meant a compromise of ideas, which is necessary for a flourishing democracy. I have great hope for future conventions and for the country to rectify the problems of the past and solidify a prosperous future," said Spalione.

With so many ideas, proposals, and different viewpoints there was some uneasiness if anything was going to pass.

“I was getting nervous that we weren’t going to pass anything. I told myself to keep an open mind to all of this and understand that even if we don’t pass anything, the exercise itself, there’s value in collaboration and just hearing from everyone,” explained Minetos.

On the final day of the conference, all state delegates had the opportunity to vote on the proposed amendments, requiring a vote of at least 75 percent approval for passage.

“The MCC was a worthwhile and profound experience, and I am humbled to have been selected to participate in this innovative project,” stated Ripol.

By the end of the final day of the constitutional convention the student delegates had through negotiation and consensus to passed four of the 20 proposed Constitutional amendments by reaching the 75% vote threshold including:

  1. An Equal Rights Amendment;
  2. An amendment recognizing and establishing tribal sovereignty;
  3. An amendment restricting gerrymandering;
  4. An amendment prohibiting the taking of private property except for public use, with just compensation (i.e., an amendment overruling the Supreme Court’s decision in Kelo v New London permitting taking of property for ownership by a private entity for “public benefit.”)

After each amendment passed, the room exploded in cheer and uproar of applause, especially for the equal rights amendment and the tribal sovereignty amendment.

“It was a great feeling that we actually came through and we accomplished something,” said Spalione.

Many attendees expressed that one of the biggest differences from many “real-life” governmental conventions and proceedings was the ability of the student participants to show natural courtesy, respect, and civility in terms of coming together from different backgrounds/cultures, proposing different ideas, and getting amendments passed and business accomplished cooperatively. The students showed great respect, determination, and enthusiasm for their country and ultimately the Constitution.

“Perhaps the most important lesson of all from the Constitutional Convention was taught not by the organizers or the faculty but by the students themselves,” explained Jones. “Specifically, the students' conduct and demeanor in meeting and working with other student delegates, persons from different backgrounds and often with different views and perceptions, was incredibly respectful, collegial, mature, professional, disciplined and honorable. These qualities are critically important in working successfully within any group of people, particularly in government.”

The Constitutional Convention provided a hands-on opportunity for students to experience what it might be like one day for them in Washington on the capitol floor one day.

Right to left Gareth Ripol Edward Spalione
Right to left: Gareth Ripol, Edward Spalione

And as Jones states, “While the new amendments emerging from the Convention are not binding, the convention was not simply an academic exercise. To the contrary, the results of the students’ efforts in this amazing nationwide student Constitutional Convention can now be shared with our nation’s “real-life” leaders as persuasive authority and food for thought on issues that clearly matter to the students’ emerging generation. This emerging generation includes our nation’s future social advocates and leaders. In this respect, the conclusion of the student constitutional convention is not an end but a beginning, as the results of the convention can now be shared with and considered by our present public leaders as a resource for further consideration and healthy, constructive debate.” 

Many students, professors, and other attendees walked away from the constitutional experience with a new outlook on how our country can come together to treat each other with respect and ultimately debate in a meaningful way to impose change for the greater good.

“Knowing people are willing to fight that fight and fight for change is really heartening especially for my son and our future generations,” concluded Spalione.