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Education: Lessons in leadership for a statewide audience

By Charles Swenson
Coastal Observer

They were dancing in the aisles at Waccamaw High.

That’s what happens when you put 536 delegates from the S.C. Association of Student Councils in a room with someone whose career as a break dancer segued into motivational speaking. Fortunately Patrick Perez, 33, has been focusing more on his toprock with a salsa style because there wasn’t enough room in the performing arts center for everyone to spin around the floor on their backs.

Not that they would have been afraid to try.

“I learned that you shouldn’t be the one that gets in the way of your doing something,” said Katie Sherfield, a student from Laurens High making her first trip to the convention.

That was just what Perez wanted to hear. He said he tailored his talk on the morning of the convention’s second day to challenge students to take chances – legal ones, naturally. There was no point in talking about leadership to a room filled with leaders, he added.

“You have so much pressure on you, don’t be afraid to fail,” he said.

Waccamaw High became the host school for the annual convention last year when Mitchell Saum, now a senior, was elected association president. It was his fifth state convention.

“This is so different, hosting it rather than going to one,” Saum said. “I have no time to run around and go socialize.”

It’s rare that a school the size of Waccamaw, Class AA, gets to host the convention. Last year it was at Wade Hampton, a Class AAAA school in Greenville. It will go to another AAAA school, Colleton County High, next year because that’s where the new president attends.

Saum booked the two speakers for the convention, Perez and Yahya Bakkar, a beat-boxing authority on teen issues. He saw Bakkar at a national student council showcase. “He was just awesome,” he said.

He found Perez through a talent agency. “I thought it would be kind of cool,” Saum said.

Participants said the convention had all the hallmarks of the high-energy gatherings they expect. Along with the speakers, the council members attend workshops on topics such as fundraising, governance and campaigning. And although Saum drew praise for his astute campaigning at last year’s convention, he said some of the credit goes to the fact that voters knew the event would be at Pawleys Island.

“I made a cool video of Pawleys,” he recalled.

Adam Moore, a junior from Clover High School and a candidate for state council office, found the convention “more laid back.” But the level of enthusiasm was still high, he said. “It’s a place where leaders are made.”

The events included an afternoon at Huntington Beach State Park for a scavenger hunt and a beach cleanup. The only place large enough to entertain the convention-goers was the school itself, so the awards banquet was held in the gym, under flowing strips of lighted sheer fabric that drew the eye away from the roof trusses and folded basketball goals.

The school clubs at Waccamaw High helped the student council prepare for and run the convention. That also allowed more Waccamaw students to participate in the events, Saum said, including the opening dance where Perez performed to the percussive beats created by Bakkar.

This was the first year the convention had electronic voting. Polling was held Sunday in the school media center with a dedicated computer for each school. Candidates for district and state offices campaigned throughout the convention with speeches and videos preceding the vote.

Brett Pitcher, a junior from Cane Bay High School in Summerville, was one of two candidates to replace Saum as president. She’s been involved with student council since her freshman year. She voted for Saum last year.

“He took the time to talk with me and explain his ideas,” Pitcher said. She based her campaign on his example.

Hannah Houck, the winner, is a junior at Colleton County High. She started campaigning last summer. It took her a month to make the caps that she handed out that read “Vote for Hannah.”

“It was fun work,” she said.

She also wore a costume made from playing cards. “Play your cards right with Hannah,” was the theme. Her video used a board game format that she plans to carry over to next year’s convention. She was in charge of workshops this year as the association’s first vice president.

“I liked the talent edge to the speakers,” Houck said.

She also thought their message was important. “Not having any fear to take chances,” she said. “Life’s more than what a lot of high school students think.”

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