Class elections. I’ve always envisioned the type of student who runs in these. The type who isn’t busy only silently earning top grades but is also outgoing, approachable and popular. The “type of personality” that can win an election.
I’ve also never been this person, although I’ve always wanted to be.
For most of my life, I lived in a school system where administration and bureaucracy ruled. There was no student government or really any student voice, so the choice was an easy one: Don’t run for (non-existent) class elections!
But then I was presented with the choice. I moved here to Massachusetts, where apparently having student representatives to school committees is required by law. It was October 2020 when I first saw the email sent out for the opportunity to run for the school committee student rep. position of my grade. I thought this was the chance to make myself become that outgoing person I’d always wanted.
My fingers temporarily detached themselves from my perpetual cloud of teenage self-doubt as I typed out a few lines to the two administrators running the election. But by the time I was finishing the email, I was already starting to question if it was a good idea. The blue send button had never looked so deterring than in that moment. It was a lot easier to just let this opportunity go away.
But knowing that with more consideration would only come a greater probability of chickening out, I quickly pressed send, shut my computer down and took a walk.
Luckily, there were very few things standing in my way of winning this election — except that I was running against four other people for the only election spot available, I was a new student who didn’t know anyone, and we were still in Zoom school (truly not the ideal campaign setting). Just to name a few.
Nonetheless, now that I had gotten myself into this, I was determined. I first printed out the election timeline and taped the paper to the wall above my desk. It honestly felt like a full on movie montage moment once I started the election process. The kind of montage in movies where the protagonist’s hard work is sort of glossed over in a fun series of clips with optimistic, vaguely-rock music playing as background. (Although the work would end up being slightly emotionally-draining and fairly difficult, looking back on it now, I can only remember my election efforts in this movie-montage style.)
First, I started speech writing. I had never written this kind of speech before, so I just … “winged it.” I talked about my goals and what I would do if I was elected, which I guessed was the typical election speech format. But I also tried to make myself stand out: I talked about how my experience at a different school could come as an unexpected advantage to identifying where things could be improved and coming up with new solutions.
Recording the speech video wasn’t too bad either. I also decided to subtitle it and add a frame around it. I kept having more ideas on how to upgrade and improve my video to the point I was worried I was taking too many liberties with it. (Luckily, I wasn’t.)
Then I made class pitches. I didn’t want to sound artificial, so I ended up drafting out some new bullet points, trying to make it different from my speech (which would be shown on election day). It was probably very standard, just me promising that I would faithfully represent their opinions and perspectives. I just tried to sound natural and friendly, rather than anything overly scholarly.
But all of that was the “easy” part. This part of campaigning actually felt natural. My speech consisted of my ideas. My class pitches were also still my ideas and were only addressed to the nebulous concept that is “classmates.” It felt comfortingly just impersonal enough because none of them would have to be listening on their end of the screen if they didn’t want to.
The “not easy” part was actually asking people to vote for me personally. Who was going to vote for the new kid? I wasn’t sure how “popularity contest-y” this kind of thing was, but I assumed it wasn’t zero. And I also had to acknowledge that I wasn’t too outgoing — or at least not the type of outgoing I wanted myself to be. I don’t think I’m particularly “socially awkward,” but it’s keeping up an easygoing and uninhibited persona to break the ice with someone where my problems surface. Even more so through text or email.
Nevertheless, I tried it out. (When you’re plunged into circumstances where everything is new, all the individual risks seem to become trivial.) I started out with one of my first friends. I asked her if she would vote for me, and she said she would. Then I asked her to ask her friends. She got a few people on board. I also texted the few people I’d exchanged numbers with and hoped this “acquaintance-status” would be enough for a vote.
But since I still didn’t know many people, most of this had to happen on the untelling and unpredictable wasteland that is Instagram DMs.
I would end up typing out every single DM I sent. No copy-paste messages for me, no matter how time-consuming it was. Even though many of the messages ended up sounding similar, I didn’t want to become fake or seem fake to all these new people.
It was slightly emotionally-draining to reach out to so many people and never know how it would be received. But to my surprise, some people actually responded and said they would vote for me. Even some extra-nice people who didn’t know me and didn’t have any classes with me at all. Those were the best surprises. Of course, I wasn’t expecting everyone to be monsters, but I was anticipating a much colder reception. But this is reality, and I did often get left on seen. (Though understandable, since I’d never actually met most of these people before.)
I ended up compiling a list of people who would vote for me and a list of people to ask. All their names listed on a document felt a bit creepy (definitely not hit-list-esque), but I was dedicated to being as organized as I could and giving it my all for my campaign. At the end, I had 28 people who’d promised me their vote and ten people who’d given me a solid “maybe.” However, there are also approximately 500 people in my grade (although I’m sure not everyone votes). I tried not to do the math on it, but I really didn’t have to to know my chances were bleak.
Election day came around on a Friday. I specifically remember it was extremely cold and stormy outside — the kind of weather where the sky has an odd, muted darkness to it that’s different from just being cloudy. I tried not to think of the bad weather as foreshadowing, but I tend to take everything as a sign.
By that day, I realized losing wasn’t only a personally disappointing issue. The embarrassment of being some new, try-hard kid who tried to win an election and miserably failed suddenly felt very tangible. It’s not like anyone would particularly care, but it was still a very humiliating possibility.
When I got to “homeroom” where we would vote, I felt very strange. I think the frigid weather had managed to not only numb my limbs but freeze my nerves. I almost didn’t feel nervous, like I’d somehow detached myself from the whole election and possible consequences of the results.
The recordings of the candidates’ speeches were all compiled into a video, which was screenshared to us by the homeroom teacher. As if to prolong my unease about the situation, the teacher had trouble screen-sharing with the sound at first. As we tried to help sort out the tech issues, I realized all the other kids in my homeroom would actually be seeing my video. This thought was incredibly disturbing, so once we finally got the video started with the first candidate’s speech, I turned off my camera, dimmed the screen of my computer to virtual darkness, muted the output sound, and physically turned away my computer.
When it was finally over, our teacher sent us the Google Form voting link. I quickly clicked on my name, Haruka Nabeshima, submitted the poll, and left the Zoom. I would have to wait until Monday for the results.
Over the weekend, I would periodically remind myself that the votes were already in and the answer already existed on the Google Form. My fate was already sealed; I just didn’t know what it was.
Monday morning came early. I was doing homework before school started when I got the notification. Oddly, I had actually managed to forget about the election by then. But hearing the sound of my phone buzz, I immediately knew that it was for the election results. I was too impatient to bother to mentally prepare myself for the answer as I opened my phone, feeling my pulse amplify in my ears. My fingers, like when I had first sent that interest email to the teachers, were ahead of me. They wouldn’t let me be a coward. I simply clicked and opened the email, my eyes scanning frantically over the email for an answer.
Then my name was there, in bold. “… Haruka Nabeshima. Congratulations!” I didn’t register it completely, but the elation was setting in.To make sure I wasn’t seeing things, I started to read through the full email from the beginning this time. Somehow I’d won.
My first feeling, though, wasn’t of victory. It was a strange, visceral gratefulness. I thought about everyone who had promised to vote for me, and the unknown number of people who must’ve voted for me (based on my speech?). The pessimism I had about their coldness and about the popularity-contest nature of the election felt inconsiderate now.
And then it felt comedic to me — the nerve I had to try and win this election as the new kid and as someone who was not particularly sociable but was particularly unknown. I hadn’t even managed to grow into that overly outgoing personality I had been wishing the election could force out of me.
But I got to do a lot of amazing work on my school committee this year. With COVID-19, learning models in terms of distance and in-person became a topic of hot debate. It was some sort of joke that the school committee had become somewhat of local celebrities in the wake of the pandemic as opinionated parents flocked to public comment every meeting. As for me, I reached out to a lot of other students to hear their perspectives and represent them, just like I promised. One of my Google Forms once even got over 500 student responses.
But, anyway, I won’t let winning the election go to my head. I’m still a new kid and I’m still not particularly sociable. But maybe I’m a little less unknown now.