Danny hunched protectively over his blue college-rule notebook on Wednesday, pen moving furiously across the page as he crafted his words.
The next day he was due to give the speech he hoped would loft him through popular election onto his Middle School Leadership Team, a gathering of 6th-, 7th- and 8th-grade students who represent their fellow students to school administrators and teachers, advocating and supporting through words, deeds and actions.
Danny’s speech was straight forward–he would represent his classmates to the best of his capabilities. He would hear their concerns and represent them honestly and fully. He would work to benefit their middle school experience within the framework of his role. He would ensure they had a voice that was neither biased nor punitive.
He recognized he might not be able to do everything they sought from him, but he would work hard, treat everyone’s needs and wants fairly and equally, and work to make his school a better place for all.
Last Thursday, in 90 seconds, he gave a speech of which any mother would be proud.
But when he came home after the election, he was sure he had lost. Another classmate had promised pizza and cake not once, but twice a week. There would be two-hours of play time each day under her administration.
Another guaranteed a plethora of field trips and parties.
A straw poll after the speeches revealed to him that those promises had definitely swayed the voters–regardless of whether they were achievable. Popular vote seemed to be going the way of style over substance,, and Mr. Substance was facing a losing campaign.
“It’s not fair,” he said, sadly. “I just told them the truth. I didn’t lie to them.”
I asked if he’d rather have lied to win the election, knowing he could never keep such lofty promises as cake for all. There was no hesitation before he shook his head. And wiped away what was surely dust in his eye.
“I will always be more proud of you for telling the truth and losing an election than lying to win one,” I told him, and we headed off to dull the inequity of it all with Caribou Coffee treats.
On Friday the text came from my husband, substitute teaching at Danny’s school for the day: “Danny won election.”
It seemed nobody was really swayed by empty promises given in the passionate drive for a hollow victory. Not many of those 11- and 12-year-olds wanted to be represented more by someone who would lie (or embellish) for personal gain, rather than someone who would work for their greater good.
Danny is already planning ways he can help the school raise money for new field trips, or start a quarterly magazine to which the students can express their thoughts and creativity.
If only the rest of us voters could be so smart.