Balloons, delegates and rallying cries filled the Boys Gym at Turlock High School on Thursday, but it wasn’t the Democratic or Republican parties casting their votes. Students taking part in the school’s 29th annual Election Convention got a taste of what it’s really like to be a part of the political scene thanks to the event, which serves as an all-day election process for student body officers.
Since 1990, Bulldogs have participated in a student body election that is quite different from those typically held at high schools. The Election Convention process is modeled after an actual party convention with students selected as state delegates, and candidates are elected through an electoral college vote rather than a popular vote cast by the entire campus.
Associated Student Body Coordinator Jennifer Cullum participated as a student in the first-ever Election Convention and said that through the years, the goal of the convention has remained the same. Stanislaus County Office of Education Assistant Superintendent of Educational Options Scott Kuykendall, Turlock Mayor Gary Soiseth and THS principal Gabe Ontiveros opened the convention with words of wisdom, sharing with students the importance of responsibility and how voters can shape the future.
While students always take the convention seriously, Cullum said, this year the message of voting responsibly felt more personal to a generation that has become involved in politics unlike any before them.
“I do think that students are very aware of how democracy works…I believe the students listened and understood the importance of being active and using their voices and votes to have their views represented,” she said. “Students seem to be more educated and involved now more than ever before.”
Government and Economics teacher Rex Rabine has watched his students participate in the Election Convention for over 20 years, he said, but recently has noticed students taking the event more seriously.
“It’s a little more animated and amped up than a real convention, but it’s a great example because we allow it to be really fun, but we also keep it under control and focus on the school politics and on what problems need to be solved,” Rabine said. “We have seen kids become more involved definitely in the last two years and there’s been a more emotional aspect to it.”
Over 400 students participated in Thursday’s Election Convention, including 45 student committee members, 100 candidates and 293 delegates. Delegates representing each state were chosen in Social Studies classes where some classes voted for their representatives, while others were chosen thanks to their high Grade Point Averages. California had 25 delegates, comprised of freshmen who were chosen randomly.
The atmosphere inside the gym was much like one you would see prior to an Presidential Election, with candidates and their campaign managers nervously practicing speeches, security guards shuffling those running for office from the crowd to the stage and plenty of excitement. Student delegates dressed according to what their state is known for, like the Tennessee delegate who showed up as Elvis Presley, or the New York delegate dressed as Lady Liberty.
“It’s so realistic, and it’s even better when everyone gets involved like today,” THS junior Cameran Sherwood said. “I think it brings a good, accurate feel and gets kids exposed to what conventions are like so later on in life they’re used to things like this.”
Sherwood and fellow junior Brandon Dhanowa were vying to represent their school as President and Vice President, respectively, at Thursday’s Election Convention. As President and Vice President, they hope to not only build on old traditions at the school, Dhanowa said, but also create a few of their own, like campus culture days and a new senior mural project.
“Thanks to our art students and art teachers, we’re going to have a mural for each Turlock High senior class so they can leave their mark here at Turlock High School when they leave,” Sherwood said.
Sherwood and Dhanowa were ultimately elected by the THS delegation to represent the school as President and Vice President, alongside the new 2018-2019 School Board Representative Henry Wooley, Spirit Leaders Jovana Perez and Jaydon Williams, Treasurer Andrew Isaac and Secretary Marco Cabrera.
Despite his success, Sherwood is still contemplating if he will pursue a career in politics post-high school.
“We’ll see,” he said.