On High School Politics: Why We Need More Japanese Footballers in Student Government

By Max Stroemer

Artificial smiles in hallways.  Huddled discussions at lunch.  Whispers of drafting speeches filled with rhetoric and humor all amount to a palpable tension which can only mean Student Council elections are back in session at Eichenweg 2!

Having made the solemn transition from Student Council patrician to High School plebeian, this is the first school election cycle since September 2015 that I won’t be participating as a candidate or organizer. My unique position as a former Student Council President in my Senior year has compelled me to write this treatise on high school politics.

In the following paragraphs, I will offer my “two cents” on what makes the ideal Student Council Representative and speak to some looming dangers that, in my humble opinion, threaten the social construct of our Upper School community.

To be clear, my objective in writing this piece is not to levy any undue influence on any individual election, but rather shape the criteria we use to choose our elected officials in a way that I never could have as a sitting President. This may be a naive attempt to extend influence and if I fail, or you disagree with me, so be it.

I have a cosmic love for this school, Student Government and the people who make this community. So long as I am a student at ZIS, I won’t give up on trying to raise the level of public debate in our building. Who knows, perhaps the pen will indeed be mightier than a raucous speech at a Friday assembly…

If you, dear reader, followed the 2018 World Cup this past summer, you may remember the match played between Belgium and Japan in early July. The Japanese “Samurai Blue” were flying high; carrying an impressive 2-0 lead over the Belgians after the first half of the match. However, playing with great stamina and athletic skill, the Belgians did well to bring the match to a stunning crescendo by winning 3-2, earning their final point in the last minute of extra time. The Belgian National Team would now advance to the quarterfinals of the international competition while Japanese players would begin their journey back to Tokyo on the Japanese island of Honshu.

While this match was sure to arouse an adrenaline rush for patriots and football fanatics from Belgium and Japan, I found the aftermath to be truly remarkable. Upon bowing before their Belgian victors, the Japanese taught the world a lesson on grace by losing with dignity – in every sense of the word’s meaning. The losing athletes left the field of the Cosmos Arena, took off their cleats and began cleaning the locker room – leaving the space in a better condition than they found it. The National Team even left a note in the locker room reading, “Спасибо” (Thank You, in the local language of Russian). While this was happening, Japanese spectators, crushed by the slim nature of their team’s defeat, began cleaning trash from the stadium, again, leaving the venue in a better place than they found it.

I strongly affirm this Japanese tradition of ‘casting no dirt into the well that gives you water’, this burden to leave something in a better place than it was found should ring constant in the heads and hearts of all candidates for Student Council just as it did for the Japanese footballers during the World Cup.

As you hear your peers deliver their speeches, I encourage you to find the candidate who is most like the Japanese footballer, the young woman or man who shows a commitment to leaving our building in a better place than they found it.  This is the person who, to paraphrase George Bernard Shaw, doesn’t look at our school as it is and asks “why”, but rather it is the candidate who sees what ZIS could be and says, “why the hell not!” This is the candidate who, in rugby terms, will be the heavy-set forward who relentlessly takes the ball into contact, ruck after ruck.

The ideal Student Council Representative is the candidate who speaks of the future and consensus building. Beyond the three minute speech, the ideal candidate is she or he who shows strength in character in the classroom, on the sports field and or even in town late on Friday night. I know that these types of candidates, the people who will leave our school in a better place than they found it, exist in each of your grade levels. While these might not be the sexiest qualities to look for in a candidate,  they are integral in bettering student life.

I am glad to say that we already have quite a few “Japanese footballers” serving in the highest ranks of Student Government at our school.  The current Executives have done well to put the noble cause of School Spirit at the heart of their agenda. As a Senior myself, I was thoroughly impressed with how fast they secured a lounge for my internally displaced grade.

Despite this, every ZIS student should be unsettled by the fact that the Student Council Executive Committee has been dominated by males for that past two years. I am guilty as charged with participating in this ‘boys club.’ ZIS students need to listen closely to the female voices running for office; It is absolutely imperative to the Student Council’s mission that more estrogen is elected to the Council in order to balance all the testosterone. The Council can not act as a body of the students, for the students and of the students without strong female leaders.

In addition to minding the gender gap on Student Council, please be cautious of the “class clown effect.”  This refers to some of our classmates who may be running for Student Council as a joke. Electing class clowns has made it difficult for people like Raghav, Juan, me and now Sam to fight the perennial question of, “Why doesn’t STUCO do anything?”. Service on Student Government means carrying the awesome burden of student advocacy. The ZIS Student Council is not a joke and the works of this organization can be beautiful if taken seriously. It is in your best interest to elect people who will respect the gravity of their position.

In closing, I wish to place great emphasis on the importance of voting in these elections. Last year’s Executive elections marked the highest voter participation rate in recent years  – it is up to you to maintain this positive trend. In our Upper School, the phenomenon of “not caring” can act as a dangerously malignant tumor in our community’s social fabric. If students won’t even vote in their Grade Level elections, how can they be expected to attend sports games or engage any aspect of school culture?

It is now up to YOU to get involved! Go vote for that “Japanese footballer” who will leave your grade in a better place during Spring weeks of May and June than in the Fall months of September and October. Once you do that,  “You can travel back to your dwelling in Kilchberg and Thalwil, in Rüschlikon and Erlenbach, in Küsnacht, and Wollishofen, Wädenswil, and Zollikon with your head held high, knowing that you were a part of ZIS history.”

My name is Max Stroemer and I approve this message. Thanks for reading.

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