MCDONALD – “There’s a lot of energy in this room.”

That was the assessment of David Volkman, the executive deputy secretary in the Pennsylvania Department of Education, when he was addressing students at South Fayette High School Monday morning, and few observers would have contradicted him.

Volkman was at the high school to address the opening of the National Student Council Conference, which is bringing together hundreds of students from around the country and Puerto Rico for three days of workshops, seminars and speakers, all designed to sharpen their skills and make them better leaders when they head back home.

The start of the conference was, without question, spirited. Pulsing dance music thumped throughout an auditorium as a countdown clock displayed how many minutes and seconds were left before the conference started. South Fayette’s marching band pounded its way through a couple of numbers, and flags from each state represented at the conference were displayed before the more serious business of the get-together got underway. Volkman urged the students to be engaged with the world, both in their current capacity and as they get older.

“We have to live in the present, with today’s deposit of time,” Volkman said. He noted there are 86,400 seconds in each day and “use all of the 86,400 seconds wisely.”

Rich Fitzgerald, Allegheny County’s executive, pointed out that the students in the auditorium would one day be called upon to help solve some of America and the world’s most nagging problems, including automation and environmental sustainability, and they should “continue to stay engaged.”

This is the second time the National Student Council Conference has happened in the Pittsburgh region; the first time was in 1985, when Bethel Park High School hosted it. The grandfather of Dan Pollock, a member of South Fayette High School’s most recent graduating class and one of two student co-chairmen of the conference, was the conference host adviser for Bethel Park’s conference 34 years ago.

South Fayette submitted its application a year ago to host the conference, which is presented by the National Association of Secondary School Principals. The organization also administers the National Honor Society and the National Junior Honor Society. The theme of this year’s conference is “Forging Student Leaders,” based on Pittsburgh’s industrial heritage.