Students from Rockland's Oceanside High School and Waldoboro's Medomak Valley High School participated in the third annual Informed Young Leaders series Dec. 5, in which they each spoke on a topic connected to the current political climate in the United States.

The presentations were made at Oceanside, and were delivered in a PechaKucha-style format. Meaning "chit chat" in Japanese, PechaKucha was founded by the eponymous organization in Japan where public speakers were given 20 slides and 20 seconds per slide to make a presentation. In less than seven minutes, each student conveyed the key points of topics ranging from lobbying to the gender wage gap to eminent domain, and took a stance on their issue

Informed Young Leaders was founded by Nicholas Lapham in 2015, and seeks to provide high school students with a forum in which to express themselves on a subject of their choice, while gaining experience in public speaking at the same time.

"I created this program to give high school students the opportunity to focus on creative thinking. These open-issues events provide them an opportunity to publicly express themselves on vital political issues and seek to expose students to multiple perspectives on issues and foster respect and civility while advocating their own positions," Lapham said at the start of the event.

This year Lapham partnered with teachers Katie Nicholls of Oceanside and Jacob Newcomb of Medomak Valley to organize a group of students — six from Oceanside and five from Medomak Valley — eager to participate in the program.. Other topics discussed by students on Tuesday night included gerrymandering, health care affordability, foreign policy and global terrorism, cyber-terrorism and the link between social media and politics.

One of the slides shown during the presentation on lobbying by Alex Mahar of Oceanside depicted two seated men in suits, smiling at one another across a table. The caption beneath the image read: "Lobbying, definition (V): Legally bribing or extorting an elected official." Mahar said the highest-spending lobbying group in the U.S. is the pharmaceutical industry, which collectively spent $244 million in 2016.

"We speak as high school students reaching adulthood," said Mackenzie Murray, who discussed the gender wage gap along with fellow Oceanside student Matthew Young. Murray quoted statistics that predict wage equality between men and women will not be reached until 2119. In his presentation on cyber-terrorism, Medomak student Noah Munn said the prevalence of computers in homes, and the fact that out-of-pocket expenditures are not required, makes this form of lawlessness and mayhem relatively easy to perpetrate.

"To date, we haven't considered any topics off limits, What has surprised me is the extent to which some students have already formed their political orientations, which have been overwhelmingly 'liberal/progressive,' which I suppose is not surprising, given where we live," Lapham said Dec. 8.

The response to the program from teachers, students and parents has been extremely favorable, Lapham said, and many of the students who participated in the Dec. 5 forum plan to take part in the next series in the spring of 2018. The program has also received testimonials from Republicans Sen. Susan Collins and Gov. Paul LePage; one year, an IYL group was asked by LePage to present at a luncheon held by the govenor at the Blaine House in Augusta.

"My hope and intention is to expand this program beyond the Midcoast, to schools across the state. Next week I am headed to Aroostook County and expect to talk to students, educators and community leaders about the program in hopes I can get it started there," said Lapham, who also plans to create a series of YouTube videos based on the students' presentations.

This year's Informed Young Leaders series was presented with local sponsorship from Eastern Tire, First National Bank and Courier Publications. More information on the program can be found at InformedYoungLeaders.com