This is about the time I served as an officer of a high school club until I got tired of condoning election fraud and quit before serving my full term.
The story spans the spring of sophomore year, all of junior year, and the fall of senior year.
April, sophomore year
National Honor Society, or NHS, is one of the largest service organizations at my high school. Within the organization, each class year gets its own leadership board. The officers on these boards are everything that I want to be – poised, confident, and widely respected by both peers and adults. Come election time, I resolve to run for a position and throw myself out of my comfort zone with a campaign video featuring a rap that I wrote and performed.
About a week after voting closes, I get a mysterious email from one of the club sponsors telling me to meet at his classroom after school. It’s good news – I won my election! I say yes to the required two year term without hesitation. This would be the first time ever that I serve as a leader in an organization, and I’m elated at the chance to prove myself worthy of it.
September and October, junior year
The first thing we do as a team is make a group chat. We’re starting to handle the brunt of administering class meetings, so we need a place to schedule board meetings where we did planning. We also need to replace an officer – one of the elected officers changed schools over the summer. It’s decided that a mini-election, with candidates giving one-minute speeches at a class meeting, is the best way to go.
Everything goes smoothly until later that same week, when a different officer is caught with drugs and sent to an alternative school. We wrap up replacing the first officer without him. After a few weeks, it doesn’t look like he’s coming back any time soon, so we decide to take written applications for yet another board vacancy.
November, junior year
Out of all the applicants, Nina stands out the most. She’s a former volunteer event organizer, so both her experience section and essays about how she would improve NHS are impressive. Unanimously, us officers rank her first in our evaluation. Because some of us know her personally, though, we decide to minimize the effect of our biases by letting our sponsor make the final decision after reading the applications and our assessments. He chooses Nina.
January and February, junior year
In the spring we begin working closely with a different sponsor – Mrs. Vee – to plan the officer elections for the grade below us. To ensure good quality officers being elected, we decide to add interviews to the process. Candidates need to pass interviews with our board to go on the ballot. Then, winners are decided by popular vote as usual.
While an excellent idea, arranging interviews turns out to be a ton of extra work. Eagerness quickly morphs into frustration as it gets hard to find suitable times for every single candidate to be interviewed by multiple officers. Soon, the chat is riddled with expressions of frustration and even insults directed at specific candidates. Though the hostility makes me uncomfortable, I can understand – we’re all stressed. Then, Nina suggests something even more questionable: blocking a certain candidate (we’ll know him as Ben) from getting past the interviews. She’d texted a few friends asking about him, and it seemed to her that Ben was arrogant and had too many commitments to honor an NHS role appropriately.
“Idc if he’s wonderful during the interview
we can’t let him make a video”
Even if the guy truly wasn’t suited for officership, it doesn’t seem right that we were deciding his fate before meeting him in person and having a formal discussion about his character and credentials. Fortunately, another officer feels the same way.
“Are we even allowed to do this? / Prevent him from making videos bc he’s cocky?”
The group is split between thinking there was fair reason to be wary of him specifically and thinking that it was unfair to evaluate candidates before and outside their interviews. Eventually, I chime in too, bluntly disagreeing with prejudging.
“we’ll consider it bc it’s a valid point
but i don’t like how you made assumptions about his character before meeting him, Nina
if his interview goes well he deserves at least a chance to be considered for video”
We don’t get to an agreement, and decide to table the discussion for later. Even though I still believe in what I said, I now regret sending this last message. Maybe, if I had been more cooperative in this moment, we might have had a chance at staying on good terms.
March, junior year
The issue of making assumptions about candidates doesn’t come up again. Ben isn’t one of the top few kids we wanted to let onto the ballot, so no one has qualms about cutting him, pre-judgment or not. The disagreement we’d had because of him does have a lasting effect, though: my fall out of favor with the team. A little resentment fed over time by gossip and poor chemistry will grow monstrously. By late March, when our chosen candidates were uploading their campaign videos, I dread interacting with the officers at all. One day (the 24th), I wake up and can’t bear the thought of going to that day’s meeting, so I tell my parents that I want to stay home with no explanation as to why. Miraculously, they let me. I have such a good time quietly doing homework all day that I forget to tell the board I’m “sick” until the evening, after I’ve already missed the meeting.
When we finally finish interviews, I’m relieved. From this point on, the results are up to popular vote, so I’m thinking we won’t have any more ethical dilemmas over the elections. I’m wrong. As votes are rolling in online, Nina has another idea: to declare the candidate we liked best as the winner of an election over the person who’d actually won, if they weren’t the same person.
“are we allowed to have a say if it’s that close? lol I know that’s so unethical but like if people’s videos sucked and they I feel like we wouldn’t be able to work with them”
The replies to this suggestion, thankfully, are lackluster. Relieved, I walk into our next meeting with Mrs. Vee to tally up the votes, entirely unprepared for her to suggest the exact same course of action: at our discretion, choosing who we think would make the best candidate even if someone else had actually won.
Because this was not a new proposal, I had already thought about what this move would mean and how much I didn’t want it to happen. The public understanding was that the final election results were solely determined by popular vote, so we would effectively be lying about the true results of the election. It was a blatant violation of chapter bylaws, the principle of just government, and the basic concept of being fair to people who aren’t you. I had never heard anything more beautifully stupid and horrifying, and I had never been so scared out of my mind. It wasn’t just a kid breaking rules; it was Mrs. Vee, the only damn adult in the room. What could I do about that as a student? Was I supposed to go to the principal and pit her word against mine, armed with my poor reputation with the other officers, fragile mental health, and non-existent self confidence? Oh yes, I would simply put off my mountains of homework for weeks as I battled it out with administration. In the end, multiple people would convince me that such a thing never even happened, and that my own eyes and ears tricked me. The google sheet with the vote count would vanish, everyone would deny saying anything I claimed they said, and my friends would be too scared of the controversy to hang out with me any more. I so needed this in my life.
Humming with panic, I say little for the rest of the meeting as the officers present conclude that indeed needed to tamper with one of the elections. According to Nina, one of the winners doesn’t seem as good of a leader as her runner-up. We’d take the runner-up instead. Later, I update the chat for the officers who hadn’t been there, saying nothing of my opposition to what we had decided.
“we are choosing [runner-up] over [winner] even though she won in votes 64-44 because we feel he’s a stronger leader (Mrs. Vee specifically asked us to choose if needed for the sake of everyone’s sanity)”
This is accepted without commotion.
Either that night or the one after, I lay face up on my bedroom floor with tears running into my ears and hair. Even the officers with good social standings hadn’t said a word about how it was kind of weird, what we were doing. No jokes, nothing. I can’t understand how everyone is fine with it while I’m not. Isn’t—corruption—bad? Aren’t we making the world just a little worse by breaking rules that are supposed to mean something precious? In reaction to a voting system that didn’t produce the person we wanted, we were undermining the entire idea of a voting system by cheating. The right way would have been to improve our particular system incrementally, and in full public view.
Barely three days after the verdict, I arrange a meeting with the board in one of the school’s practice rooms. I let them know that I thought our decision was wrong, and ask them to reverse it. Say we miscounted votes, or something. The unanimous response is that it’s too late to do anything. We’ve already released official election results, and it would be such a hassle to roll back. I’ve run out of courage just holding this meeting, so I yield easily. I feel defeated, but also more at peace knowing that I’ve done all I can handle.
April, junior year
We don’t talk about the election again, and life goes on. I’m still not okay with our decision, and struggling to figure out what to do about it. At some point, I tell my parents about my dilemma, and they advise that I lie low. It’s a critical time, as college application season is coming in the fall. Best not to make a scene, they suggest wisely.
May, junior year to August, senior year
I stew for the rest of the year, and the summer, and August of senior year.
My history of speaking out against group decisions has guaranteed much ill will between me and the other officers. I’m getting tired of crying in my car before heading to class in the morning, and doing nothing about a clear violation of my values. Would I tell my kid one day that my response to injustice was to lay low and keep supporting its perpetrators? I couldn’t bear that. So even though I wouldn’t be able to tell anyone the real reasons why, I decide to quit.
First, I meet with Mrs. Vee alone and tell her. It’s weird, being hugged warmly by the person who drove me to quit. Then, tactlessly, I break the news to the board over text. This I regret. I should have quit much earlier, told them in person, and helped to find and train a replacement for me. As it were, I was too late and had no strength left to do right by them. Any more time around the board, and I risked breaking down in public.
Shortly after, the other adult sponsor arranges a final meeting with everyone, and they’re understandably angry. I tell them that my post is too much work to handle on top of college applications, repeating it like a shield to their many questions. It’s a half-lie — yes, it truly was too much work, but it wasn’t administration duties bogging me down. The work that I needed escape from was hiding lies, meeting with people who hated me, and working for a boss who didn’t believe in political fairness. Within the hour, we adjourn, and I am free to leave and never come back.
September to June, senior year
The rest of senior year is blissful. I apply to college with no mention of NHS anywhere on my Activities page, and put the whole thing out of my mind until later.