Our high school students elected their student council officers today. At the time of this writing, the winners have not been announced, but I anticipate several days of recounts and protests. That’s how we do things these days.
When I was a student at CRA, student council elections were held in the spring of the school year prior to the year of service. As a sophomore in the spring of 1989, I decided to run for the office of Student Council President, a position that typically went to a senior-to-be. Somehow, I won the vote.
Riding high on a wave of popularity and, let’s be honest here, a healthy dose of arrogance, I proceeded to clown-shoe my way through my junior year’s presidency. I can’t look back and tell you anything negative that occurred under my watch, but nor can I recall a single positive accomplishment. Although I wanted the title and the accolades, I was content to fly by the seat of my pants when it came time to do the actual work. By the end of that year, my act must’ve worn pretty thin with my fellow students.
Still, because they were all such good people — patient and forgiving of my immature fun-at-all-costs demeanor — no student was going to run against me in my campaign for reelection. We had to coax out an opponent — a sophomore himself, to run against me, if only for the sake of having an opponent.
But this sophomore, a kind, unassuming guy from Jonesboro named David Smith, mounted a tough campaign. He was (and still is) bright, engaging, and authentic. Most of all, he was a true leader.
You’ve jumped ahead of me by this point, right? Well, David Smith sure did. He whooped me, and he deserved to win. He went on to serve the two consecutive successful terms I had expected would be mine, and he did a great job. David and I became close friends in the years after high school. He lives in Searcy now, and I rarely get to see him, which is yet another loss for me.
Even though I know I deserved to lose that race so many years ago, I can still remember sitting in Mr. Jearl Howard’s classroom when the results were read over the intercom. I remember the loud cheers that rumbled through the classroom walls, as students in adjacent rooms celebrated David’s win. Our classroom was eerily silent, and I sat there feeling small and conquered. Mr. Howard said something thoughtful and kind about how difficult winning and losing could be, and I appreciated his effort to comfort. But I was numb and heartsick.
Someone else may feel that way today. Every true contest has a winner and someone who won’t win. Some kids can shrug off the loss and move forward. My inadequacy and my lack of leadership cost me dearly that day, and even though our student body made what I knew was a good decision in electing David, I will always remember the sting of what felt like their rejection.
Today, as I think about the great kids who put their names on the line to run for office here at CRA, I am thinking especially of those who will not win. It will hurt, and I will hurt along with them.