By Rebekah Daniels
I was hiding from reality in the back seat of my best friend's car, my head buried in her lap. Tears were falling uncontrollably. My cheeks were hot and fiery red from the fury I felt inside. I could not believe what I had just lost: being student body president meant everything to me. It gave me reason for enjoying school, exercising my creativity, and making difference. Now it was gone.
The pain of defeat would not have been as intense if this had been my first time running for my high school's student body president position. I would not have known the gratifications that awaited me after winning. But a year before, at the end of my sophomore year, I had been pulled aside by my teacher and student body advisor, Mrs. Bowen. She asked me if I would run for president in the elections the following week.
Taken by surprise, I asked why she asked me and not a junior. She said the students who were planning on running were ineligible and the other juniors did not want to run. She explained that I had good leadership skills and that sometimes as a leader you are called to step up when no one else will. I was honored to be asked to hold a position of such importance.
Hesitant, I took the position with pride, although I had no competition as I ran for the presidency. It was comforting that Mrs. Bowen had confidence in me and would be my advisor.
Being president got me fired up about my school and gave me the chance to share that enthusiasm with the rest of the student body. I knew there were a lot of responsibilities, but I was ready and excited for the challenge.
Throughout my year as president I learned the best ways to succeed are being organized, planning ahead and staying on top of everything. I also learned that the students, council members and staff rely on you to bring confidence, creativity and energy to everything you do.
I wanted to take what I had learned my junior year and be an even better president my senior year. My goal was to be remembered as someone who cared about the school and did her best as president.
Next year's elections were under way. Students were signing up in the office. I did not think anyone would run against me. Then I saw Cory Olson's name on the list. Cory and I had been good friends since freshman year and I appreciated it when he asked me if it was okay if he ran. I said yes, confident that I would win.
The closer the election speeches came the more I feared losing. Cory was more popular, laid back, and "fun." I was afraid students would see his energetic personality and overlook all the hard work I had done.
Before the students started filing into the gym to hear our speeches, I lost it. I became so nervous that I had a breakdown in the girls' locker room. I cried in fear of losing, something I could do nothing about. It was up to the students now.
I heard the hustle of the students finding their seats in the gym. I needed to pull myself together and deliver my speech with confidence and hope for the best.
It was the end of the day. The announcements for the new student body council positions were being read. My heart was pumping more blood than I ever thought possible. Then came the announcement: "PRESIDENT, CORY OLSON." The words pierced my ears.
The butterflies that had taken over my stomach were still. My heart was now in my throat. I could not breathe. My eyes were burning as the faucets behind them were slowly turning to full blast. I had to get out of there.
In anticipation of losing, my friend Emily and I had formed an escape plan a few minutes before the announcer came on. This was immediately put into action. I grabbed Emily's keys from her hand and fled toward the parking lot. I crawled into the back seat of her car, pulled a blanket over my body and burst into tears.
Moments later Emily slipped into the back of her car. She laid my head on her lap and comforted me. I wanted to hide in the back seat of that car forever, never having to face the facts.
Losing the presidency was the biggest defeat in my life. Supposedly, defeat strengthens your character and teaches you how to rise above what stands in your way. Instead, I let all my frustration, disappointment, anger, and hurt feelings follow me into the next year. At first I wanted to take the high road and help Cory if he needed advice or volunteers, but my mind was having a war within itself. Half of me wanted Cory to fail. The other half of me knew I was a better person than that, but I chose to ignore the side I should have listened to.
I was constantly criticizing and comparing what Cory was doing to what I had done. I wanted Cory to realize how hard the job was and see he could not handle the position. I had no faith that he would be a good president and hoped the students would soon see they voted for the wrong candidate. I drove a wedge between our friendship and I let my jealousy take over and turn me into someone I never wanted to be.
The defeat wasn't all bad. For the first time in a year I was not under constant stress. When the chance to become the school's mascot opened up I took the position without hesitation and wore the pirate costume during football games. I was able to go hunting with my father for the last time before I left for college. Yet I was so focused on my defeat I did not recognize all the new opportunities at school and at home that arose because I was not reelected.
It took me one year to learn how to be a better leader, one day to forget that a good leader rises above defeat. It took one year to transcend that defeat and remember what I had forgotten and one phone call to correct my actions and do what was right. I called Cory and apologized for the critical words I used against him, for not helping him out, for hoping he would fail and for not being the friend I should have been.
Now, looking back, I realize that winning an election that at the time meant so much to me would only have repeated the lessons I had learned the previous year. But by losing I gained infinitely more.
Some of the hardest lessons I learned were how to handle the emotions, to overcome discouragement, channeling my energy from negative to positive and how to move on without holding a grudge against my opponent.
For the first time in a year I was not under constant stress. When the chance to become the school's mascot opened up I took the position without hesitation and wore the pirate costume during football games. I was able to go hunting with my father for the last time before I left for college. Yet I was so focused on my defeat I did not recognize all the new opportunities at school and at home that arose because I was not reelected.