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ROBB AUSTIN'S TURN

Running for Senior Class President

April 4, 2012

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

Throughout my years at Walter Johnson High School in Bethesda, Maryland, I watched as the same individuals, year after year, ran for class office, and time and time again, they were elected.

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

Most of us were stereotyped in high school, and of course, often we still are. Yet, back then we were looked at by our peers as being part of some group; perhaps it was the intellectual or creative type, or a class officer, an athletic jock, or one of the bad boys/girls who smoked cigarettes between classes.

For me, I excelled at playing basketball, and as such, my classmates did not see me as a candidate for class president, although secretly I had always dreamed of making such a run.

Late spring, between my junior and senior years, I decided to take the plunge, and announced my candidacy for senior class president. To say this decision took my classmates by surprise would be an understatement. Many laughed or thought it some kind of mistake.

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

The incumbent junior class president decided not to run for re-election so many others seized the opportunity and jumped into the race, making it a field of six candidates.

I have to admit, my initial marketing 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. The following morning my new signs hit the hallways, and students took notice of the campaign's new "look."

This taught me early-on that good advertising is very important in politics. Still, the primary obstacle remained the prevailing idea that I wasn’t up to the job of being senior class president.

I was determined however, and further surprised my classmates with a telemarketing campaign, phoning students at home after school hours, and asking them directly for their vote. To others, I mailed personal letters, and this too was a big surprise for kids rarely, if ever, received a piece of mail at home.

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 candidates 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 U.S. President Harry Truman, a historical figure who many thought lacked good qualifications when he was elected President.

In front of a packed assembly, 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.”

I continued, “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.”

My 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 a total of 53 votes.

Although I later lost the run-off by seven votes, a young dream had been fulfilled, and a lesson learned.

Never defer, nor neglect, your personal dreams.

For we shall not pass this way again.