The NASA JSC chapter of the NASA Alumni League (the retiree’s association) has been trying to get me to be the president of the chapter for years. I enjoy the organization but did not want to put in the time and effort that it takes to be president. This year, they finally caught me in a moment of weakness and I agreed to run. All the other potential nominees breathed a sigh of relief. I’m running unopposed and the ballots are in, we should hear the results in a few days.
It probably comes as no surprise that in middle school and high school, I was one of the nerdy kids. Smart with good grades, but lacking in social awareness and completely lost in sports. That did not prevent me from running for student office; encouraged by my mother I undertook a campaign every year for class officer of some sort. And of course, I always lost.
That carried over into college; I continued to run for various student government offices and was repeatedly unsuccessful. One year, my residential college awarded me the Whittington trophy – named for a student who once ran for a student office unopposed but came in third place behind two write in candidates. My record, while unblemished by success, was never that bad.
Nowadays, I get the occasional encouragement to run in the real political world: “You should run for Congressman!” This heartens me but I know that it is a non-starter. All any opponent of mine would have to do is point out that I spent 32 years as a government bureaucrat and the campaign would be over.
Nor would I want that job anyway. No political ambition here.
Back in college, I had much better luck getting appointed to positions which did not require an election. I served on several committees, was appointed to be chairman of the committee that brought speakers to campus, served as an ombudsman to the honor council, parliamentarian to the Student Senate, things like that. (I still have my rabbit eared copy of Roberts Rules of Order – I guess that confirms my geek status).
I watched with a lot of amusement when one of my classmates ran for student body president on an absurdist ticket. He really could make us all laugh and made it clear that his campaign was a joke. I wish I could remember all the funny things that he promised, but it was too long ago and my sense of humor might be different now than what my 19 year old self thought was funny. Anyway this friend of mine became the class clown, the court jester; everybody liked him and nobody took him seriously.
My junior year, the outgoing president of the student body and some of the other officers encouraged me to run for student body president. Thought my service on various boards and panels made me a good candidate. I had some modest name recognition from bringing entertaining speakers to campus (see my post on ‘The Great Bird of the Galaxy; about bringing Gene Roddenberry, the creator of Star Trek, to speak).
So of course I filled out the paperwork to run. My only opponent was the class clown. This year he was running a serious campaign. He acted serious, he made serious proposals, and said nothing, nothing, nothing to laugh about. I figured that we would beat me. Surprise, when the votes were counted I was the overwhelming winner. Unbelievable.
I certainly learned a lot that year. I got into a verbal tussle with the editor of the student newspaper and learned the truth in that old Mark Twain quotation: “Never get in an argument with someone who buys ink by the barrel.” There were factions on the student senate that had to be recognized, soothed, and compromised to get anything done. There were student protests that resulted in detention by campus security which became a crisis for the student government. Dealing with the administration was a challenge, but not nearly as bad as it could have been.
But as I look back on it, the number one lesson that I learned is that it is very difficult to transform yourself from class clown into serious candidate. Apply that as you will.
Anyway, I am waiting for the NAL election results. Wonder if I will finally earn that Whittington trophy the hard way.