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ROBB AUSTIN'S TURN

Do Not Defer, Nor Neglect, Your Dreams

May 14, 2010

As a 15-year-old  high school student, I was interested in running for politics. I liked the idea of helping people and cutting through red tape.

Throughout my junior and senior high school years, I watched, as the same individuals, year in and year out, ran for class office, and time and again, they were elected.

Still, in the back of my mind, I thought I could do a better job.

In high school, we all get stereotyped, and are usually considered part of some group; perhaps an intellectual or creative type, a class officer, a jock, or one of the bad boys/girls.

I excelled in basketball, and as such, my classmates did not see me as a potential candidate for class president, yet making such a run had always been my dream.

In the spring, between my junior and senior years of high school, I decided to take the plunge, and announced my candidacy for senior class president. To say, that this decision took my classmates by surprise, would be an understatement.

I had not been active in school affairs up to this point, and my classmates did not see me as someone who could advocate for them before the school administration. I had other ideas, and immediately embarked on a campaign to live out my young dream of running for class president.

The incumbent junior class president decided not to run; so many others seized the opportunity to jump into the race, making it a candidate field of six.

My initial signage campaign was a flop, and only served to strengthen the idea that my forte was basketball – not politics.

Fortunately, one of my class buddies, a bright guy named David Law (David later went on to Harvard, and to Oxford as a Rhodes Scholar), volunteered to re-make my campaign signs, using first-rate stencil materials, and the following morning, there was an improved visual “look” to my campaign, in the hallways of the school.

The major obstacle to my election however, remained this idea that I wasn’t up to the job of being senior class president.

Never being one to be deterred (even now), I surprised my classmates by telephoning them at home after school, to ask for their vote. Others, I wrote personal letters to, another big surprise for those who received them, as high school students rarely, if ever, received a piece of mail.

Still, the outcome hinged on the all-important public speaking portion of the campaign, the all-student assembly held on the day of the election, where each candidate spoke directly to the class.

Most of the kids kept their speeches on the light side, trying to win votes with humor. I took a different tact, hitting the issue of qualifications head on, and using as an example, former President Harry Truman, as someone who was thought to be lacking in qualifications when he assumed office, yet turned out to be a great President. 

I said, in part, “It has been said that I don’t have the ability to be president of our senior class. It’s fortunate that we live in a Democratic society where an individual can be a candidate and elected to high office regardless of his education, or whether he’s a Democrat, Republican, or Independent. This also applies to the election of senior class president.”

Continuing, “The history books tell of a young man with responsible leadership ability, who attended high school, could not afford to attend college, worked on a railroad construction gang, as a clerk in a bank, and on his father’s farm. This young man became the 33rd President of the United States. I know that I have this type of responsible leadership to lead our class as your president, and do a good job”.

The speech concluded, “You and I shall pass through these halls but once. Any good thing, therefore, we can do for our school and class, let us do it know, let us not defer it, nor neglect it, for we shall not pass this way again.”

The speech received a standing ovation. As the final votes were counted, later that day, the results showed that I had defeated the other five candidates by 53 votes.

A young dream had been fulfilled, and a lesson learned.

Do not defer, nor neglect, your dreams.

For we shall not pass this way again.

Robb can be reached at Rbbaustin@aol.com)