Friday, September 28, 2007

Campaign of Fire, Vote of Glory: The True Story of the 1992 Samson High School Student Council Vice President Election

Fifteen years ago this year, I walked the halls of Samson High School with 42 other people as 12th graders... Seniors. After having worked with students at Valleydale Church (an sbc fellowship) for 8 years now, I've lost what it means to even be a Senior... I'll tell ya, Jennifer Lambert and Susan Ward looked a lot older at 17 than, say, Jamie Cartledge or Amanda Laughlin do now... but maybe that's cause I was 17 too.

Anyway, here's something I wrote a few years ago, chronicaling the heated election for Student Council Vice-Presidency, and the "By God!" controversy I was embroiled in...

October, 1992. I loved being a senior. We were the kings of the world, and the world lay beneath our feet. Samson High School was a small school in rural south Alabama, boasting only 45 people in our graduating class. The high school sat right next to the junior high, and everyone from sixth through twelve grades shared the same land at recess... within reason, of course. The "cool" seniors would be sitting on the breezeway, owning the sidewalk, practically daring anyone to walk through without permission.

The junior high kids resided on the opposite end of the yard, the run down end of the yard. Everyday, they would be seen throwing baseballs, running around frantically. I would sit on the breezeway and watching them, thinking back to how I used to throw baseballs and run around frantically. Back then, I would look across the yard at the breezeway, watching the seniors in awe, thinking of how far away 1993 was. Perhaps that year will never come, I'll be in school forever.

Students caught in between the group of commoners, i.e. anyone below ninth grade, and supremacy, i.e. seniors, would mingle in and out. The most popular girls of the sophomore class would always stand close to the lunch room, chatting, backstabbing, gossiping and such. The jocks of the lower classes would huddle together at the end of the sidewalk, discussing babe-bagging and the next week's game. There were a few privileged students whom we allowed to enter our space of rule, but mostly, we stood proud on our sidewalk at recess and lunch. We walked the halls with an air of confidence, borderline cockiness if you will. This was our year... this was my year. I was a senior.

I was a band geek. I admit it. I loved my saxophone, I played it everywhere. Our band combined the talents of 7th grade through 12th grade, and we still only had about 40 students in our band. Out of 500 students, I guess that wasn't bad, but we still were a small band.

It was in band that I dared to do what most seniors wouldn't... cross party lines and befriend the lower classmen. I'll be honest with you, some of my favorite people were in 8th and 9th grades. Some of the funniest guys I knew then were mere Sophs, some of the prettiest girls I knew then were only Juniors and sophomores like Julie Wise. My sax section consisted of myself, a frosh, two eighth graders and a seventh grader. They were like my kids, which was a funny title when you consider that I wasn't even first chair. Amber, one of the 8th graders, was. You'd think I'd feel humiliated by being at least three grades ahead of everyone and sitting in second place, but it didn't bother me any. She was darn good. They gave me laughter, I gave them leadership... they encouraged me with their humor and silliness, they listened to me when things got tough. It makes me feel old to know that everyone of these kids have graduated high school now, and some of them are out of college.

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Two of my sophomore friends, Beverly Day (l) and Jennifer Herndon (r), and part of my strategy. Beverly was always cute as a pumpkin, and Jennifer was pretty in a... well, in a... Jennifer... Herndon sort of way...

The fact that I would humble myself enough to talk to a Soph during recess or say hey to a frosh at lunch, or even high five a... dare I say it?... middle schooler... made me popular with the school. It was this that made me decide to throw my hat in for student council vice-president. I had won SC Rep for my class last year, but this time, it would be harder. It was this that allowed me to go head to head with a popularity juggernaut named Shannon Williamson.

Shannon was an upcoming senior who had joined our class when we were in 9th grade, looking up at the class of 89. She was funny, quirky and immediately popular. Her popularity had grown and grown until it was almost machine-like, when at the end of our junior year, she decided to run for student council vice-president for the following school year. And so did I. There was a third nominee, a guy by the name of Toby, but honestly, he never had much of a chance. Though Toby was a likeable guy, this election was going to be between Shannon and David, and everyone knew it. See, the thing about Shannon was that she was a lot like me in energy and personality... which is why we liked and respected each other a whole lot, but at the same time tended to rub each other the wrong way often.

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My political nemesis, Shannon Williamson... and that looks like a Michelob on her desk, and I swear its not... its some sort of peach drink.

The presidency was locked up by a girl in our class named Nicki. She dominated the Jr. High Student Council years ago and was poised to do the same as a Senior. Oh, don't get me wrong, I adored Nicki, she was a good friend of mine, but I just knew that there wasn't anyone foolish enough to run against her... as a matter of fact, I can't even remember if anyone did. The other offices, such as treasurer and secretary were only small skirmishes compared to the Shannon-Dave election battle of 1992.

My first task was to estimate how the classes were going to vote. The voting population would consist of the upcoming Frosh, Soph, Junior and Senior classes, and I had taken a long hard look at the power of each class. Toby's votes were going to be mainly the Junior class jocks that played football. He would have a few loyalists, but I knew he wouldn't go much beyond that. As for our class, I knew there was no way I could win over the entire Senior class, as Shannon was too huge with them. Yeah, they all liked me, but everyone in our class loved Shannon. There was no need for me to waste my time trying to win votes I knew I would never get. Another factor that came clear to me was the Juniors who didn't go Toby's way would likely go for Shannon.

So for a few days, I carefully staked out a small foothold in the Junior and Senior class, talking to the people that I knew would vote for me. I didn't try to win any Shannon loyalists over, but I needed to build a foundation in those two classes. Nicki and Shannon had clashed many times before, and the thought of being president with Shannon as VP didn't appeal to her... naturally, I took advantage of that fact and pulled her over to my side. She got a few of her best friends on the Dave Train as well. One of my best friends was a Junior, so he promised me his vote and the votes of some of his closer friends. Though the entire Senior class was buzzing about a Shannon'esque administration, I had managed to gather a handful of people in 11th and 12th grade on my side. Then, I discoverd, and began to exploit Shannon's fatal mistake.

Her mistake was the fact that she didn't take the upcoming Frosh and Soph classes seriously... she campaigned hard in the upcoming Junior and Senior classes, easily winning a high percentage of them, but the lower classes were largely ignored. What she forgot was that the lowest of lows, the skankiest of skanks, the geekiest of geeks had the same amount of votes as the most beautiful girl on the cheerleading squad (Stephanie Phillips, in case you are wondering--also on the Dave Train, thank you)... exactly one. Using the band as a foundation, I began to hit the Frosh and Sophs hard, talking to them, spending time with them at lunch. People, no matter how old or young, can tell if you are merely singing sunshine or if you truly care about what they have to say... so I used my ability to just be real with people and stormed the lower classes. I even worked my way in with Julie Wise and Jennifer Herndon and a few of the other popular Sophomore girls by the lunchroom at recess, and was able to get most of their votes.

With the election a few days away, I sewed up the frosh and Soph votes. My final task was to go after Toby's votes. Don't get me wrong, I didn't want to steal his votes... I liked Toby, and wouldn't dream of undermining his campaign. My purpose, however, was to become their clear cut second choice. If there was no Toby, I wanted them to turn to me, not Shannon. And there was a reason for this... after winning Student Council Representative the previous year in a run off with Misty Kimble, I knew this was a very good possibility.

Election day came and everyone filed into the auditorium. Samson carries a tradition that the Seniors come in last, and everyone stands as they march in to sit on the front rows. We proudly walked in, nodding and smiling at the standing underclassmen, as Shannon, myself and Nicki walked to the stage. Toby was already seated onstage, as was the opponents of the other races. Nicki gave her speech first, which wasn't very memorable. It didn't matter really, she could have told a bathroom story and still won the presidency. Then came the V-P speeches. Toby was up and he gave a small speech garnering a decent applause and much noise from the football team.

And then, I was up.

I slowly walked up to the podium and unfolded my paper. "Fellow students, faculty, worthy opponents..." Is there somewhere in a secret code of speech writing that you have to acknowledge your opponents? I began to recite the speech as I had practiced it in my mirror, throwing energy and flair into it. I spoke loud, strong, confident... and like any election, it has to have a controversy. This one did, and wouldn't you know it, it was from me. I would go on a limb and say it was the most controversial speech of any election at Samson before or since.

Promising to do my best to look after the student body's interests, I actually said... remember this is Deep South, total Bible belt country... and these are my words exactly, "...and I don't care how crazy it is, I will take your requests to the administration! If you want your MTV, then by God, I'll try to get you your MTV!"

You just don't say the words "by God" in a speech unless you are actually talking about something that is "by God".

The teachers gasped. The audience went nuts. I don't remember anything after that because of the uproar of applause and cheers. As I headed to my seat onstage, I smiled at Shannon as she was getting up. "Thanks," she smirked at me. "Welcome," I replied, still smiling as I sat. Toby leaned over to me as Shannon began her speech and whispered, "You know you are going to win this election, don't you?"
"We'll see," I replied.

The totals were counted that afternoon, and in the middle of algebra, I heard the loudspeaker come on. "May I have your attention please, the results for the 1992-1993 election are in."

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Nicki Vann, the new Student Council President.

The voice went through the treasurer and secretary, and then announced the new president was Nicki Vann. Gosh, I loved her and all, but when she acted surprised it made me want to throw something at her. Then, the vice-presidency... I looked over at Shannon, she looked at me, and we looked around as the whole class had fixed their eyes on one or the other. "For the Vice President position, there will be a run-off between Shannon Williamson and David Dollar next week."

By the way, I got in trouble for the "by God" remark. The principle, Mr. Wells, and the SGA sponsor, Mrs. Rials, pulled me into the office and told me that remark offended just about every one of the teachers and some of the students. Mrs. Rials even tried to justify it saying, "I figured you meant to say 'by gosh' or 'by golly', and got carried away with your energetic speech."

"No, Mrs. Rials, it's actually written in my speech," I replied. I had to go to each high school teacher and apologize, which I did willfully. Most of the teachers were actually understanding and accepted my apologies, and some even told me "Who cares?"

(by the way, remember this is 1993... in 2007, you say "by God", you'd probably get in trouble not for taking His name in vain, but for mentioning "God" and offending those two students who don't believe, cause gracious, make sure those 1 or 2 students out of a studenty body of 700 are taken care of, right? I'll shut before I go off...)

As for the run-off, this is why I went after Toby's votes and this is why those Juniors who had promised me their votes were key. Toby was the Pat Buchanan or Ralph Nader to Shannon's Al Gore and my George Bush. Toby cost Shannon the Student Council Vice President's spot. Having already made nice with all of Toby's voters, most of them now turned to me instead of Shannon. Those Juniors who were already on the Dave Train campaigned for me and began to turn persuade the class of 1994 to come on board. Again, I dominated the Freshman and Sophomore classes and now carried almost half of the junior class. The senior class remained unmoved, as very few of them had voted for Toby anyway, but with Toby's votes and my controversial speech, much of the football team was now on my side. When the election day came back around, the Shannon-David battle was nearing an end.

"May I have your attention please?" asked the loudspeaker voice. "The new vice president for the Samson High School 1992-1993 student council is..."

I held my breath. I looked over at Shannon who was doing the same thing. Just like the last time, all eyes were on us, but unlike the last time, this was it. There would be a name called in a matter of seconds. And when the loudspeaker voice finished, when the name was called, I looked at Shannon, she looked at me, everyone erupted in applause.

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