Elected by their peers, class officers dream big to shape campus events.
To many U.S. voters, nothing could be more important than election season: Presidential candidates make promises, explain their values, and campaign for enough votes to earn a four-year seat in the White House.
At Cheshire Academy, we have our own elections each year: class officers. Of course, there are key differences; at the Academy, the popular vote prevails, unhindered by messy checks on democracy like electoral colleges; terms last only one year; and this year's winning senior class president reigns from Von der Porten Hall (sans secret service).
Despite these differences—and perhaps one or two others—many students and faculty see the race to class officership as one that teaches both elected officials and their classmates a valuable lesson in democracy.
“The kids learn what it’s like to get up, speak, apply for a position, and then try and fulfill their promises. And it’s not an easy thing to do in an institution even the size of Cheshire Academy. Now imagine working to change an entire country! It’s a great learning experience,” said Senior Class advisor and Science Department Co-Chair Ray Cirmo.
Julia Rafferty ’18, president of her class for the second year running, has the carriage of a career politician. In her mind, elected class officers hold positions of service, and enact the will of their constituents. “We really did put an emphasis in our speeches that we wanted to not just hold the positions as titles [...], but really […] be representatives of our class and represent the things they find important.”
“Last year we had the same ideas in place and this year we’re continuing our goals,” said Kate Davis ’18, who is in her second year as treasurer of her class. Incumbents Rafferty and Davis were joined this year by newly elected junior class officers Vice President Lexi Williamson and Secretary Jemimah Frempong. Together, they have a special focus on philanthropy. In addition to working with local food banks to arrange student participation in service events, they are spearheading service opportunities with the local St. Francis Hospital using Williamson’s familial connections.
However, before a student can wield the power of class officership to enact change, he or she must first get elected. To do so requires the popular vote of their class, gained through rigorous campaigning, a speech, and, of course, campaign promises.
“My favorite campaign promise has to be a promise to change the dress code,” chuckled Cirmo. “However, I always encourage students to try to enact that promise. I urge them to do more than say they’re unhappy with the dress code. Instead, propose a new dress code policy! Create change in a way that is organized and orderly.”
This year’s Senior Class President John Jiang had a more modest proposal: to increase attendance in campus activities. “John’s enthusiasm is amazing. His campaign was, ‘I’m going to get more kids involved in everything,’ and that was really poignant, I thought,” said International Student Coordinator Cori Dykeman.
Jiang, with the help of his fellow senior officers Secretary Miranda Chen and Treasurer Abby Kandel, has been a force to be reckoned with this year. Their annual senior Halloween Auction raised $2,735, in part due to the strategic selection of popular teachers to auction off. Jiang even had a new idea to list bigger ticket items: “Faculty families,” like the Dykeman family, could be bid on for a higher cost. The senior class donated $1,400 of the funds to the Lights of Hope, making their grade the largest donor to the local Cheshire charity.
Some of Jiang’s other initiatives include creating a set time for inter-class officer meetings once a month and working with campus administrators to write class officer job descriptions to guide future leaders. He also aims to create a council with Deng and Rafferty that will allow students to provide more say in activities run by the school for students, such as Spirit Week or the Winter Olympics. Jiang’s overall goal is to ensure that all students feel welcome and included, and can have a voice in the planning process.
“They really set the bar on campus,” said Cirmo. “The school looks up to them. They always need to be in dress code and they always need to be setting the example. That’s what it means to be a leader.”
The class officers are leaders in more ways than one. Those who, like Rafferty and Davis, are in their second-term, have a lot to pass on to their successors. “I work with the junior president,” said Sophomore Class President Peter Deng, “asking for advice on the dances because basically Julia did the homecoming dance [last year] so I was trying to learn from her.” Deng and fellow officers Vice President Jameson Hardy, Secretary David Licki, Treasurer Linda Lin, and Representative Grace Sun are responsible for planning the Homecoming Dance—an annual sophomore class officer tradition.
If planning a dance for the entire school sounds like a logistical challenge for a high school student, it certainly is. Staying organized, communicating effectively, and following up to make things happen are key skills that class officers gain during their tenure. Deng recently heard from his constituents that they would prefer a different date for the homecoming dance; however, he learned that vendor contracts had already been signed—a valuable lesson in event planning and vendor management. “The biggest challenge that I’m facing is communication,” said Deng. He sees his role as providing a link both between students and from students to teachers. “When I communicate with someone, I have to think about different perspectives.
The junior class officers have a secret weapon when it comes to staying organized: Davis. “She won’t give herself credit for it,” said Rafferty, “but [Davis] does a lot of the organization, and the emailing and saying we have to have this in at this time, or we have a meeting, and we rely on her a lot for that.”
Despite Davis’ organizational prowess, sometimes even the best ideas are thwarted by lack of funds or bureaucratic hurdles. “I had this grand idea of a music festival,” said Rafferty. “I wanted to have local musicians from the town of Cheshire and artists from campus.” She envisioned a big tent on the lawn with all-day concerts, food trucks, and fun—almost like a unity concert. “With time and with money, maybe I could draw up plans and pass the idea on,” she said, “but we still have time, so I’m not crossing it off the list just yet.”
While the older class officers are seeing the light at the end of their term tunnels, those in the freshman class just elected their representatives this fall: President William Song, Vice President Jerry Dong, Treasurer Victoria Ye, and Secretary Julia Gillotti, with the eighth grade represented by Jonathan Velazquez. The shortened terms gives little time to enact policy, but ample time for future planning.
As all politicians know, coming up with the ideas isn’t the problem. Finding the money and getting the green light to make it happen? Well that’s another story. Ever the optimists though, each officer expressed hope for future events, emboldened by their gained experience, and ready to create something great both for their classes and the Academy as a whole. Certainly, that leaves a lot to look forward to.