April 25, 2018 | By Tim Pratt
In the Maryland Student Legislature, college students from all over the state gather to address issues important to them.
Education. Healthcare. The environment.
This year, student legislators from St. John’s College in Annapolis were recognized as the body’s Most Outstanding Delegation. The group of more than a half-dozen students received the recognition during the MSL’s annual legislative session April 13-15 at the State House.
“We’ve had a meaningful impact at MSL because we’re consistently there (and) we’re consistently engaged for its own sake—not for credit, not for a stipend—but because we like to debate and discuss,” says Cyrus Schiller (A19), governor of the MSL’s Council of State. “We have a lot of conscientious, civic-minded people here.”
The MSL, created at the University of Maryland in 1989, simulates the Maryland General Assembly. Students write bills and resolutions, debate them, and make recommendations to the state’s elected leaders.
Johnnies hold four of six elected positions on the MSL’s Council of State, which leads the organization under the supervision of a board of directors. Along with Schiller, Sierra Engdahl (A20) serves as lieutenant governor, Guillermo Cassanello (A21) is secretary of state and Tyler Mazur (A20) serves as speaker of the assembly. Students from Hood College in Frederick hold the other two positions.
“At St. John’s, our delegates bring something very unique to the group,” says Mazur, a former Army medic who has long held an interest in public service. “Other schools primarily have political science majors (in the legislature). We, being liberal arts, definitely bring a refreshing twist to it.”
Delegations from Maryland colleges and universities gather for three sessions a year. Those sessions, which attract dozens of students from more than a half-dozen institutions, take place in the same chambers that state legislators meet.
The MSL’s last session took place immediately after the General Assembly ended its 2018 session. The MSL holds training and planning events throughout the year, too.
While many of the bills and resolutions the group debates address serious issues—gun control and taxes, for instance—others are introduced primarily for the sake of discussion.
“Sometimes bills are more laid back and fun,” Schiller says. “It’s not always about the substance of the bill; it’s more about the debate.”
The St. John’s delegation last year introduced a resolution encouraging Maryland public schools to teach philosophy. This year, Schiller brought forth environmental legislation. Mazur says he once incorporated Herodotus and Athenian democracy into a discussion.
“We do it because, in many ways, it’s a natural extension of the Program—bringing our voices to the table and sharing them freely,” Schiller says. “It’s a great outlet in that respect.”
As governor, Schiller hopes to increase engagement with institutions throughout the state.
“I know there are plenty of people in college like me who just want to make a difference and care a lot about politics, but don’t have the opportunity to,” he says. “We’re going to try to grow, especially with the smaller colleges in Maryland.”
Schiller is interested in a political career after St. John’s, though he’s not yet sure in what capacity. He believes his education is preparing him for whatever path he chooses.
“The education helps you become a better leader, a better thinker,” he says. “I see St. John’s as a great supplement to my interest in politics. I want to use what I learned here to make a difference in what I care about so much.”