By Avika Dua, 16, Walnut HS
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After losing the election, Avika got involved in other activities that still let her be a leader.

About a month after I started high school, freshman class elections were announced. When I heard, I knew I wanted to run for class president. I really liked speaking in front of people—it was as natural to me as talking to friends. Since I got along well with people, I felt like I’d be easy to approach and receptive to ideas from the other students. I knew that the president led cabinet meetings, organized fundraisers and would get to plan prom, so I thought it would be fun to be in such an involved position.

I asked my best friends if they thought I had a chance of winning. They told me I should do it because they knew I’d work hard and take the job seriously. I made up my mind that I would run. I thought that since I had my friends’ support, I could get other people to vote for me. But I was scared that people would feel bad for me if I lost—when people look at me with pity, it makes me feel even worse about myself. I felt like I had to win.

The following week was for campaigning. I wasn’t going to make promises to put recycling bins on campus, which class presidents don’t have the power to do, or tell people about how hardworking I was, which doesn’t mean anything because everyone can say he or she’s hardworking. My plan wasn’t to make promises but to show them why I wanted to be president.

My sister, who was a senior, told me that making T-shirts was a good way to win because people love free stuff. The weekend before the campaign my mom and I went to Wal-Mart and Forever 21 to find packs of blank white shirts. We spent $150. I went to a friend’s house on Sunday to come up with ideas for what to put on the shirts, and she made the design in Photoshop. The front of the shirts would say “Vote Avika for Pres” and the backs were designed like jerseys with my last name and graduation year. The funniest part of the design was the fine print on each shirt, which read “Making life better since 1995.” The phrase was a little conceited, but I thought it was funny enough to make my campaign memorable. Another one of my friends had a dad who was in the printing business and his company printed the shirts for free.

I came to school on Wednesday with a box of 125 shirts and was swarmed during lunch by people who promised me a vote in exchange for a shirt. I went home with only two shirts left. That night, people who hadn’t seen me at school text messaged me and posted on my Facebook wall asking for shirts, so I had to get more printed. As people took my shirts, they would tell me, “I’m definitely voting for you” and “You’re definitely going to win.”

I also made posters and fliers and spent time after school each day with my sister putting them up in hallways and in classrooms. I heard that I had three opponents, but it seemed like I was the only one campaigning because nobody else was making shirts or putting up signs. Since I was working hard on advertising, I felt that my chances of winning were strong.

I wanted to boost our class pride

Photo by Sarah Singer, 17, STAR Prep Academy HS (Culver City)

Each candidate had to prepare a one-minute speech. A draft of the speech was due to the class advisers on Friday and candidates would present them to the freshman class during a 30-minute enrichment period on Election Day, which was the next Wednesday. I spent around two or three hours writing and rewriting my speech. I didn’t know how to start. I knew I wanted it to be funny, yet serious enough to show how much I wanted to be president. I paced around my room whenever I got stuck—so about every five minutes. I started the speech with the corny “Why was six afraid of seven?” joke (answer: because “seven ate nine”) to show people I had a sense of humor. I then wrote that I wanted to be someone they could come up to whenever they had a problem or question. I included how I wanted to increase spirit and give freshmen pride at pep rallies, where they’re usually booed by upperclassmen. I closed it with my campaign slogan: “ ‘Dua’ smart thing and vote for Avika Dua.” I practiced in front of the mirror about five times a day until Election Day. In the mirror, I pictured them laughing at the jokes and drowning out the end of my speech with cheers.

After that long week, Election Day arrived. When I got to school, I saw a poster outside the gym for one of my opponents. I was surprised because I hadn’t seen any campaigning by other candidates for president until now. I began feeling nervous because someone else was finally campaigning. Between my first class and enrichment period, I noticed people wearing shirts supporting the person whose poster I saw. Since those shirts hadn’t even existed the day before, I felt a little betrayed that I couldn’t find anyone wearing mine. When I walked into the gym I heard people telling the other candidates, “I know you’re going to win” and “Everyone’s going to vote for you.” It sounded weird to hear that, since people had been telling me the same things. All of a sudden, I felt like I wasn’t going to win. Scanning the crowd, I wondered where the hundreds of shirts I had given out went—it didn’t seem like more than 10 people were wearing them.

When I gave my speech, the response wasn’t what I had pictured. They laughed at the funny parts but stopped looking at me or started talking to each other every time I got serious. I understood that people were bored with speeches, but I started thinking that whoever wasn’t listening probably wasn’t going to vote for me. I felt like I had to say something to get them to pay attention. In the middle I laughed nervously and said, “Please listen.” I finished and heard scattered applause and cheers. Then my opponent who made the poster and shirts on the last day stepped up to the podium—it seemed like everyone was screaming his name. His speech was short, but drowned out by cheers so I couldn’t hear what he was saying. Nobody could, but it didn’t matter. After hearing his speech, I realized I should have made mine shorter because no one cared what we said. People were just going to vote for their friends.

Desperate for votes

It was clear who would win (hint: it wasn’t me). I walked to the ballot table and felt like everyone was looking at me as I cast my vote. I saw people who had promised me their votes walk out of the gym without voting because they didn’t want to deal with the crowd surrounding the ballots. I ran up to some and made them come back and vote, but there was no way to catch everyone.

For the rest of the day, I felt like it was over. I wanted to just go home and cry, but I made it through the day without the waterworks. After school, I let my eyes fill with tears as I walked toward my mom’s car because I knew nobody could see me. In the car, I told my mom what happened. She gave me a hug, but could only say that moments of failure build character and that I’d get over it in time. I think she was trying to make me feel better but her words didn’t help. She didn’t understand the humiliation of putting so much into an election and losing in front of everybody.

The following day as I walked to my first class, people who had been rooting for me asked me if I had found out the results. I just responded, “I don’t know yet.” I felt like I’d let them down. As the bell that signaled the end of school rang, I walked to the classroom where the results were along with my friends who had run for vice president and treasurer. My stomach was in a knot even though I knew it wouldn’t be my name under the boldface title of “President.” But what if my name was on the list after all? I couldn’t help but hope that maybe I did win. But my prediction was right: I didn’t. Both of my friends got the positions they ran for and I told them, “Good job!” One of them gave me a hug, looked at me with the pity I’d feared, and said, “It’s OK.” The other understood and just let me be. I didn’t cry this time as I walked to the spot where my mom picked me up because I was all cried out.

I had to face my classmates

The next day, I woke up and wished I didn’t have to show my face at school. I thought about how I could avoid being seen, but I knew that putting a paper bag over my head would attract more attention. So I decided to hang onto the hope that nobody would ask me about the election. I got to school, and about two minutes later at my locker, people asked me about the results. I acted like I wasn’t embarrassed and told them that I didn’t get it. They acted surprised, but I felt like they were just saying sorry for the sake of it. It became routine throughout the day to give a mechanical answer to everyone who asked me. “Then why didn’t all of you vote for me?” was what I wanted to say, since they couldn’t fathom how I didn’t get it. Maybe I was just bitter about the whole thing, since I had let myself get too attached to the idea of being president.

For a while I felt like I’d forever be known as the girl who lost the election, but after two weeks things seemed to get better. People forgot about the election and were talking to me just as they had before about classes, clubs and weekend plans. I joined Class Cabinet so I could still play some part in student government. There was still a part of me that felt bitter whenever I saw our class president at cabinet meetings, but the feeling wore off as I got involved in other activities, like Future Business Leaders of America and debate. I took on leadership roles in those in my sophomore and junior years and I felt like I’d found my place in high school.

I don’t regret running for class president. I learned that the election was more about popularity and less about trying hard during the campaign. But I know it was better to put myself out there than not run because I was afraid of the outcome. I’m glad I invested the time and energy into my campaign because it taught me the important lesson that things aren’t always going to go the way I expect. My mom was right when she said moments like these build character—since then I’ve faced disappointment after applying for officer positions in clubs and have been able to move on stronger as a result. Even though I lost, people got over it, just like I did.