Student Council? Go Figure(head)!

in Editorials | April 5, 2024

          The final two presidential candidates emerged from the dark of the stage into the white, fluorescent lights and hastened quickly to their chairs. Hailing from Chicago and sporting tight-lipped smiles, both candidates spoke with remarkable strength and eloquence, advocating to the student body their vivid visions and daring dreams. Followed by a final few hoots and cheers, the candidates left the stage, and the 2024 Lawrenceville Presidential Campaigns came to an end, leaving prospective voters with a short Google form to choose “the future of Lawrenceville.”

          If casting one of the over 800 votes to determine the future of our school feels like a heavy burden to shoulder, we bring wonderful news: While your vote may matter when selecting a Student Council President, the President has very little bearing on the future of Lawrenceville. While candidates each year promise substantial changes to the School, Lawrentians should reconsider how influential Lawrenceville's presidents can be. 

          In the election’s preliminary round, 16 candidates spoke to the IV Form. Consecutive speeches soon blurred into an alphabet soup of gratitudes, pleasantries, and slogans as Chapel pews creaked under restless students. Admittedly, a memorable speech or convincing argument is hard to pack into two minutes, so it was only natural for candidates to buff up their speeches with unique initiatives in hopes of winning over the crowd: one candidate promised discounts at Starbucks, another vowed to implement driver’s education, and multiple promised more days off. These claims stood out within the whirlwind of words, acting as a tether for voters to grasp and to remember. To a presidential hopeful, being remembered strongly enough to scrape past the initial round may be more relevant than the moral implications of making false promises.

          Not all lofty goals are ingenuine: some claims are fashioned to lure in votes, while other promises are made in a good-faith attempt to better the School. Yet regardless of the intentions behind claims, their shared grandeur inflates Lawrentians’ conceptions of a School President’s authority, misleading voters into thinking the School President can independently implement a discount with an outside organization, enact a ‘silent major’, introduce a whole new course, or adjust the school schedule. Through the echo chamber of presidential speeches, the School President’s role and authorities have been hyperbolically misconstrued into those of a powerful figure with executive force.

          One can glean a more accurate perception of a president’s power by analyzing the student handbook. While not explicitly defining the School President’s role, the handbook describes Student Council’s duties to “[oversee] social activities, social service initiatives, and the peer tutoring program” and to “[serve] as a liaison between students and the faculty.” Therefore, the formerly stated role of School President is to serve as a leader to the Student Council, and the President’s authority only functionally extends over that Council. As a liaison, any non-council related initiatives must be discussed with and approved by faculty.

          Unlike its clubs and publications, Lawrenceville the educational institution is not student-led. The School relies on the many adults—Faculty, Deans, the Head of School, Board Members—behind the scenes who were explicitly hired to make Lawrenceville a “better” school. Presidential hopefuls, without insight into the more administrative facets of the school, have the luxury of proclaiming unchecked their boundless dreams to the student body. Only when officially inaugurated will Student Council members finally be conquered by the enemy of dreams: the reality of logistics. Meetings, email chains, and cancelation of decisions are only some of the roadblocks the President must navigate. Time is not on their side. 

          Even with elevated status, the School President is, at the end of the day, merely a student representative of the student body: they are not compensated for their role, and are held to the same academic and behavioral expectations as any other Lawrentian. Their role must fit on top of their many other commitments, an almost-impossible task if we expect the moon from Student Council.  

          One should not expect unprecedented change at Lawrenceville led by a V Former who has to meet academic, athletic, and extracurricular requirements—all in a single year. The presidential tenure, limited to a little less than a year, prevents the President from garnering the necessary administrative support for initiatives before they graduate. 

          If even the President, with a burning passion for change, has neither the time, energy, nor authority to enact their platform, what should be the criteria of a Lawrenceville President? Perhaps Lawrentians should refrain from applying our critical lenses to presidential elections and instead return to the elementary, base mode of popularity-based voting. As the President acts as a representative of the student body, responsible to communicate with the powers-that-be, Lawrentians should elect someone who can represent the best of Lawrenceville, in eloquence, heart, and virtues alike.