Elections are arguably the biggest spectacles of student council. I’ve been involved in a few of them, as I have been active in student leadership for six years now—from grades 7–12. I have been president of the student council at Parkdale High School in Riverdale, MD; served as treasurer of the Maryland Association of Student Councils (MASC); and held a one-year term on the Maryland State Board of Education as a voting student member. I currently serve as the president of MASC.
From a school election of class officers to the pursuit of public office as a high school student, student council elections and campaigns are an amazing show of student passion and a drive to serve their peers.
MASC hosts its annual election of officers—president, first vice president (high school), second vice president (middle level), and treasurer—in a three-day MASC Convention in Ocean City, MD.
With the aid of staff members and a small budget, candidates participate in social media campaigns, physical campaigning, regional caucusing, speeches, and debates. Delegates attending the conference are bombarded with campaign paraphernalia such as stickers and buttons and will hear each candidate as they make their bid for office. The regions of MASC, which reflect the county of the delegates, caucus and may decide to allow a candidate to speak to them in a more personal manner. The campaigning process lasts from the evening of the first day to the afternoon of the second day, during which time delegates vote in their regional caucus room. The results of the elections are then presented at the evening awards show. The elections at the convention provide an opportunity for students in grades 7–12 to use their voices and select individuals who best reflect their values.
I have run for office twice at the MASC Convention—in 2017 during my freshman year (for MASC treasurer) and in 2019 (for MASC president). Through those elections, among others, I have learned a lot about campaigning and what it means to be a candidate representing those within your community and those outside of it.
Take Time for Self-Reflection
As a candidate, you must have intent or know what you wish to do in office. In selecting a position to run for, candidates should take time for internal reflection. These are the questions I have asked myself before deciding to run for office:
What am I planning to do in office?
This is a baseline question that should be answered as you envision your work throughout the term. It should trigger you to think about your personal accountability.
Can I do a better job than the person currently in office?
This question isn’t focused so much on the person currently in office, but instead concentrates on the work they have completed and the potential to build on that work.
How can I help those around me while I’m in office?
This question is meant to examine the translatability of your work in office to the community you come from and represent. Analyze problems you and your community have faced before and determine if your service in office will aid in solving those problems.
Am I dedicated enough to serve my peers to the best of my ability?
For as much potential we have as student leaders, we must also be honest in our intent to pursue office. This question asks you to reflect on your willingness to serve. Are you truly interested in serving your community, or are you padding your resume before college? If elected, are you willing to sacrifice hours of your personal time in the interest of those whom you have agreed to represent?
Knowing everything about myself, would I vote for me?
This is the most important question candidates should ask themselves. Answering requires a holistic review of oneself. Weigh the positives and negatives. Consider your ability at your best and at your worst.
The Role of Ethics
If you have dutifully answered these questions, you may now move to the next step of candidacy—ethics.
A key to being a good candidate is being an ethical one. Campaigns have become controversial in recent times, and a factor in that is the ethics of the candidates. It is exceptionally easy to run an unethical campaign and participate in the spreading of rumors or the vandalism of an opponent’s campaign posters and materials. It is also easy to run an ethical campaign by not participating in negative actions against your opponent. A good rule of thumb is to do unto others as you would like done to you, and through that rule you can take actions that promote healthy campaigning and a positive yet competitive environment.
In being a candidate, you should always be mindful of the delegates who will be voting—not because they may vote for you, but because they are people just like you and me. As a candidate, it is easy to be respectful, courteous, and mindful of those supporting you, but it’s a bit more difficult to do the same for those who may not support you. Thus, to be respectful of everyone you must be proactively aware of your interactions and ensure you treat everyone fairly.
The best practice for being a mindful candidate and campaigning fairly is to actively question and reflect upon your actions. Often, we as leaders and driven individuals are so determined to get our “reach” goal of being elected that we adopt tunnel vision. This can be negative because your actions and decisions are made while you’re isolated from the feedback and critique of others. Throughout the entirety of your candidacy and even when in office, seek critique and feedback from those whom you trust and have your best interests in mind. Through this feedback you improve your decision-making skills and expand your ideas.
Elections are a high-intensity part of student council, and it is imperative for the sake of student leadership and its integrity that we remain mindful in our actions. Without being mindful, we run the risk of our organization losing its integrity and its value. Our voices as student leaders are our biggest strength, and with the prominence of social media in today’s society, our strength is magnified. If you believe in something, treasure it, nourish it, and share it with the world. At the end of the day, live your truth and aim to share it with others.
Bryce Awono is a senior at Parkdale High School in Riverdale, MD.
Don’t seek to give approval, but instead work to interrogate the idea of candidacy. From that interrogation, facilitate and create a culture that will allow students to succeed to the best of their ability. When students are campaigning, ensure that they can approach you with concerns or challenges they face, but still be sure to promote proactivity and reflection on their part. Find additional resources in the Adviser Resource Center at www.nhs.us/arc and www.njhs.us/arc under “Working With Members & Officers,” or at www.NatStuCo.org/arc under “Elections & Selections.”