The Republican National Committee chairman told a Johns Hopkins University student audience Thursday night that they were "not the future" of politics, but were in fact at the center of it today.
"Don't sit back. These are exciting times," Michael S. Steele, the Republican national chairman, advised students at the symposium, "The Role and Future of Young People in Public Service."
Steele said last year's presidential election energized large numbers of young voters, voters he wanted to keep involved in the political process.
"Something sparked the country that ignited a passion," he said, adding that it would be up to young voters to keep the momentum going.
Also on the stage was Rep. Aaron Schock, 28, an Illinois Republican, who discussed his experience as the youngest member of Congress.
"The greatest lack of diversity in government today is age, not race or gender," said Schock. "The caucus of twenty-somethings is pretty lonely," referring to the few House members near his age.
He said young people should become immersed in national political discussions, such as the debate on health care. "After all, because of your age, you are going to be living with it for the longest time," he told the audience of about 200 at Shriver Hall on the Homewood campus. The event was part of the Milton S. Eisenhower Symposium lecture series.
The pair discussed how Facebook, Twitter and other forms of social media are effective as communications tools but also dangerous for elected officials.
"There is a beauty and a danger to the new media," Steele said. "It will come back to you."
Schock said his older constituents are increasingly savvy about digital tools. "All people are using these forms of social media. Older and retired persons have the time."
Steele, who recalled his years as a Hopkins undergraduate - he had appeared on the same stage in a production of "The Music Man" - told his audience to "stay away from the noise of celebrity."
Steele said he has no respect for elected officials who treat their offices as celebrity platforms. He said that as a young man, he spent "three years in a monastery," and that after that experience, "you get that all out."