A Message for the Future Student Council President and Vice-President

Photo courtesy of Ross Mortensen

Outgoing Student Council President Mpilo Norris ’18 address the Choate community.

This past Tuesday, as I grabbed a seat in the last row of the balcony, I could not fathom why I had to attend this School Meeting. Why should I, a sixth-former some months from graduation, have to listen to repetitive rhetoric leaving the mouths of students whose leadership would hardly affect me? I knew that as a senior I couldn’t vote for these candidates, and I struggled to make a case in opposition of falling asleep in my chair. That being said, I felt obligated to hear what the candidates had to say — I had already agreed to participate in a Q & A panel the next day, providing me the opportunity to pose questions to the candidates.

At School Meeting, I was struck by the contrast between the tone of former student council representatives and the tone of the roster of inexperienced candidates. Many of the former representatives dotted their speeches with a list of successes they helped achieve in their time on the council; on the flip side, those without experience on Choate’s Student Council focused on the ineffectiveness of the student council and the shortcomings of the council’s connection with the community. While perhaps this was to be expected, it did show just how much former members ran their campaigns on the backs of their experience, while the others ran theirs from an outsider position of critique.

The multiple mentions of the zero-tolerance drug policy in the Choate handbook also stood out to me. As an advocate for a change in the language of the zero-tolerance policy, I appreciated that many of the candidates would continue to push for this change if elected. However, considering that zero tolerance has become the hot topic on campus, I struggled to separate the candidates who legitimately care about our drug policy from those who briefly mentioned the subject as a method to gain popularity among the student body. Either way, the overwhelming willingness among the candidates to continue pursuing a change in the language of the drug policy pleasantly surprised me and left me optimistic for the next council-elects.

Although I admire the fact that zero tolerance was at the forefront of many candidates’ platforms, the ability to communicate effectively with students, faculty, and the administration means something more to me. In order to tackle issues that are larger than us, including  zero tolerance, a student must establish connections with the faculty and administration, arranging the conversations with them that are most likely to effect change. At the very least, these discussions inform the adults on campus of our desire for change.

The President and Vice-President of Student Council need to act as intermediaries between the student body and the administration. While students can directly speak to members of the administration about any qualms they have, the leaders of the student council have a platform and a title that grants them more access and, therefore, more power. These positions need to be filled by students who will make the most of these opportunities, and continue to push for the changes students need.

To the next Student Council President and Vice-President: never let the administrative powers, which can frequently feel against you, deter you from your advocacy. Persist. Although real change requires extensive time and effort, never end the conversation with both the students and the administration. Listen to the community, and use students’ words and ideas to create realistic yet effective policies. And by the end of your time on the council, hopefully you will be able to say, “I didn’t do this for myself, I did this for them.”

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