Student reflects on debate experience

As of this moment I am 6,689 days old. During the 21 days of setting up the state superintendent’s debate, I learned three life lessons.

Being part of this debate was truly a wonderful experience. It was an honor to be part of the class that set it all up, and part of a group of students that made a great debate happen. I honestly believe that the three things I learned from this debate will stay with me until the day I die.

The first thing the debate taught me is that you have to make your own political choices. There is no right or wrong when it comes to political preferences as long as you make those choices on your own, and you can back it up with evidence on why you believe that party or that candidate is best.  I think one of the big problems we have with our political system is that people are persuaded by media or their parent’s views. This debate taught me that I have to inform myself and make my own opinions. It is important to open your mind and see each candidate as an individual, and without being biased find actual evidence on each candidate’s plans and their policies, and decide which one you like more. This debate taught me to do that, and I honestly feel like people who are much older than me have not learned to do that yet. They go with what their parents believe or what they hear secondhand or information they get from friends. This debate taught me something that will be important for the rest of my life.

The second thing the debate taught me is that politics can be extremely frustrating. Not only was I a part of the making the debate happen, but I turned 18 years of age this summer so this was the very first time I was eligible to vote.  As a voter I had the chance to research both candidates thoroughly, and without anyone’s help or anyone trying to force their opinion on me, I was able to come to the conclusion of who I thought was easily the best candidate. I went to the polls. I filled out all the paperwork and got registered. I took my bubble slip ballot and only voted for one thing, the State Superintendent of Public Instruction, because that was the only race I had researched. I didn’t want to vote for a candidate if I had no idea what they were like or what their qualifications were or what their plans were. I filled out my bubble sheet, turned it in and was incredibly confident I had just voted for the candidate who was going to win the election. And, what do you know, the next day I found out that the candidate I voted for had lost by about 5,000 votes. I was in complete and total disbelief. I had done research and been involved and even met the candidates in person! But still after all that, the candidate who I personally thought was the most qualified for the position doesn’t quite make it. On hearing that news, I realized this debate had taught me another life lesson. Politics can be incredibly frustrating.

The final thing the debate taught me might sound a little cheesy but I believe it. This debate taught me that if you have help from other people and if you work hard and if you collaborate, you can make anything happen.  Most people expect high school government classes of 11th and 12th graders to write essays and pass tests and that’s about it. However, with hard work, determination, and collaboration, we put together an absolutely amazing debate. We asked the candidates tough questions. We had about 200 people attend the event. We exceeded people’s expectations. That is something that will always make me proud. This debate taught me that no matter your age or what people think of you, you can make something amazing happen if you want to. All you need is hard work and collaboration and that might be the most important lesson to take away from this project.

So, 6,689 days, countless lessons learned. Some of those lessons will stay with me long into adulthood. But, through this debate I learned three lessons that will definitely stay with me for the rest of my life. This debate showed me how politics can make you want to pull your own hair out. It taught me that your own political choices are what are most important. And most of all, this debate taught me that with people behind you, you can make anything happen.

Jake Thornberry is one of 80 students at Compass Academy in Idaho Falls who planned and conducted a state superintendent debate between eventual winner Sherri Ybarra and Jana Jones. He shares three life lessons he learned during this political experience.