Independence teenager leads efforts to get young people politically involved

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INDEPENDENCE, Mo. -- We are now less than a week from the November general election. And even with spirited campaigns and important choices to be made from The White House on down there is a struggle once again this year to get young people involved and to get them excited and less cynical about government and the political process. That is certainly not an issue with the FOX 4 Young Achiever of the Week.

As Hillary Clinton made history in Philadelphia in July by becoming the first woman nominated for president by a major political party, an Independence teenager was there making history of her own.

“I got a lot of attention, I think,” said FOX 4 Reaching 4 Excellence Young Achiever Rachel Gonzalez.

Just a few weeks after finishing her junior year of high school Rachel was in the arena in Philadelphia as the youngest delegate ever to represent Missouri at a Democratic National Convention and pledged to Clinton.

“It was incredibly emotional for me because I had spent so much time working on her campaign,” said Rachel. “I volunteered in the campaign in Iowa, Kansas and Missouri up until their primaries. And to finally know that she would be on the ballot in November and that I’ll get to use my first vote on her was a really cool moment for me.”

Rachel’s decision to take the political plunge and run to be a convention delegate from Missouri’s 5th Congressional District continued her rapid rise to prominence in the area Democratic Party. She’s become something of a celebrity and a respected figure at important events like last month’s Greater Kansas City Women’s Political Caucus Torch Awards Gala.

“It took a lot of time to get used to being around all these amazing people,” said Rachel.

Intensely interested in politics since the 2008 presidential campaign, Rachel’s very active now in other campaigns, including those for statewide offices in Missouri, and in efforts to get other young people involved in politics and registered to vote at all levels.

“Even just like on the presidential campaign,” said Rachel, “it’s important but it’s not as important as your local election because those affect you directly.”

Rachel’s political fervor has taken shape and grown in her years at William Chrisman High School where she’s now a senior. She gravitates to spirited classes like American Government and she’s become a dynamic student leader in a variety of organizations.

“It was the first time in 21 years of teaching where I’ve had a student that loved politics,” said William Chrisman history teacher Jon Straub.

Straub said he was excited to see that in Rachel when she was a sophomore in his AP History class. And this year, Straub said, many more Chrisman students are politically engaged because of her. Whether it’s in politics or school organizations, Straub said Rachel is a strong role model for others.

“Here’s someone 17 years old,” said Straub. “And she knows what she wants to do. She has her life mapped out about what she wants to accomplish. Whether someone is a Republican or a Democrat, I think you just have to respect what Rachel has done, the passion she brings and how hard she has gone about to support something she really believes in.”

Rachel does have it mapped out. First college to study political science and criminal justice, then on to law school to become a civil rights attorney and then make a run for elected office herself – state representative in 2024.

“Being a political activist, my top priority is making a difference and helping as many people as I can,” said Rachel. “And I think that politics is a great way to do that. That would be my main priority.”

And who knows? Maybe one day it will be Rachel on that big stage accepting a presidential nomination and making history.

Rachel has been named the Jackson County Young Democrat of the Year and the Missouri Democratic Party Young Democrat of the Year for 2016. Her influential leadership posts include membership director for the Young Democrats of America and chair of High School Democrats of Missouri.

FOX 4 News is Working 4 You to spotlight outstanding young people and their positive accomplishments. In our weekly report called Reaching 4 Excellence we meet young achievers in subjects like academics, the arts, leadership, community service, volunteerism, career exploration, overcoming obstacles and heroism. Watch for Reaching 4 Excellence every Wednesday on FOX 4 News at 9 p.m. and every Thursday on FOX 4 News at 8 a.m. and noon.