The InSite: Tell us about your student government
Jeff: Until I was junior in high school I was
really never involved in student government at all...as a
junior I thought it was too late to get started.
TI: Why did you even have the thought that you might
want to make a change in the program as it was already
playing, in your life?
Jeff: It seemed like the people who were the class
presidents and student council officers were the same people
who had the "leadership" bag. They didn't really seem like
real people who wanted to do anything for the students, it
seemed like they were doing it for their resumes!
TI: Sounds like being a professional politicians! So
did you have some sort of idea that you could do the job
Jeff: I thought that I could do it with
TI: I'm always interested when people suddenly see
something in a new light and view themselves as able to do
something that they never thought they were able to do
before. What happened that made this decision clear for
Jeff: I going to be starting my senior year and it
came time to sign up for whoever wanted to run for elections
and I thought "I can't do this because I have no experience
and I'm not part of that group that runs for office." But
then I thought, "this is my last chance!" If I don't just go
for it now with whatever experience and credentials I have,
when am I ever going to get them. When am I ever going to
get a chance? It felt like I might as well take a shot. I
really had no expectation of winning I just set my sites on
"I'm going to try this." And that was the end goal.
really had no expectation of winning I just set my sites
on "I'm going to try this."
TI: That's really good advice for anyone who wants to
attempt anything for the first time. "I'm going to try
Jeff: You have to think about "What do I have to
lose?" And I thought, "For every person that is elected,
there's someone who isn't and it's not that they're branded
forever as a "loser." Nobody really remembers and nobody
really cares (if you lose.) And if there's something you
want, only you know what it is, and you've just got to try
it! Nothing ventured nothing gained.
TI: So what was your next step after you made this
decision that you were going to run?
Jeff: I started thinking about what it was like to
be in the shoes of someone who votes. I thought "when I'm
filling out a ballot, who do I vote for?" It's not just the
popular person, it's a normal person who is friendly and
passionate and really wants to do something and I thought,
"Don't worry so much about the posters and the hand-outs,
let me just ask my friends to vote for me and go around and
tell people that I'm really serious about this and I had new
ideas to bring to the table."
TI: What office were you running for?
Jeff: Vice President of the student council.
TI: And what was your competition like?
Jeff: One was a popular cheerleader.
TI: (Laughing) Aren't all cheerleaders
Jeff: She was also President of the Sophomore
class! One was the current student council secretary.
TI: Who was obviously looking for a promotion!
Jeff: Exactly! And then there was me!
TI: Did you have a campaign manager?
Jeff: In my school you were really on your
TI: So this was a solo effort. So what was it like to
go around just being honest and being yourself and asking
people to vote for you and hoping that your ideas and your
passion would speak for itself. How did that feel to
Jeff: I actually got caught in the middle of a
scandal! And it was my damage control that really allowed me
to talk to people.
TI: What happened?
Jeff: It thought that it's not enough just to be a
nice person, I wanted to find something concrete that I
could do for the school s that when I got up to give a
speech against these two very qualified opponents I could
say "I want to do this." So I looked around the school and
thought, what in the world could a student do to improve
this place for us, other than more "school spirit" and the
same old things that everybody says. The school had
instituted a rule against allowing pizza deliveries.
I looked around the school and thought, what in the
world could a student do to improve this place for
TI: Why did they make that rule?
Jeff: That's what I wanted to find out. So I went
to the principal and said, "Why is this not allowed
anymore?" He told me that a couple of years ago it had
become a problem because people were leaving pizza boxes all
over the place and we said, "That's enough of that. No
more." And I said to him, "But that was years ago. Could we
allow a trial period where we would allow pizzas on the
condition that the school remained clean. If I were to get
up in a campaign speech and say "I've talked to the
principal and he's going to allow pizza deliveries again as
long as we keep the campus clean." I asked if that were
something he would let the students try again. It sounded
reasonable to him and he said "Sure." So I announced to the
school that I'm the kind of person who doesn't talk about
"we're going to do this and that. I'm a person who actually
goes out and does things. And I talked to the principal and
asked if we could do this and it's already done, whether I'm
elected or not, this is something that I've done and I hope
it will serve as an example that I'm not into politics and
promises I'm into actually doing things!"
TI: What a brilliant move! You get my vote! So you won
the election, didn't you?
Jeff: Well, there's more to it, actually. The
student council advisor didn't like the idea that someone
without any experience and without any qualifications to
speak of was conceivably going to win this election. So he
went to the principal and said, "This isn't right. If anyone
is going to sell pizzas it should be the student council
student store, not the local pizza place." So he changed the
principal's mind and they decided that pizza deliveries
would not be allowed so they put announcements to this
effect in the morning notice and they had posters in the
cafeteria and even in the voting area saying that I had
TI: Ooh, not good!
Jeff: No, it wasn't. And it was pretty
devastating. I didn't lie. I had arranged it with the
TI: Sounds like the principal had the backbone of a
Jeff: Apparently. Well it was his first year, so
when some one came to him and said, "You can't do that." He
said, "Okay, I guess we can't do it." Without regards to the
fact that I had run on this platform saying this is
something I did and the principal said we could do it, now
they were telling the whole school that I had lied, that I
didn't have permission and that my campaign promise would
not come true.
TI: So what did you do?
Jeff: I had a choice. I could have dropped out of
the election. I could have buried my head in the sand. I
could have proclaimed that life is unfair and disappeared...
but I decided to go around and talk to people. And they
actually gave me a reason to get into conversations with
people about real issues. Because everyone that I made
myself available to said, "Hey, Jeff, what's going on?" I
don't know how I knew to do this, but I took the time and
the effort to talk to every single person who was interested
and who would listen and I explained the whole story. The
more people I talked to the more people saw that I was a guy
who was trying to make a difference and this was the way the
school worked. On a very grass roots level, I showed people
I was genuine and wanted to do a good thing to the
took the time and effort to talk to every single
person who was interested and who would
TI: And on election day, what happened?
Jeff: I was as surprised as anyone to find out
that I had beaten these two very well qualified candidates.
They didn't publish the numbers of who got how many votes,
but it's entirely possible that the other two candidates had
more votes than me. It's possible that they each had 33
percent, and I had 34 percent. Which is just over a third.
But I had more votes than either of them. I think a lot of
people don't realize that you don't have to get all the
votes. The more candidates their are to split the votes, the
fewer votes you need to win!
TI: So what did this experience teach you?
Jeff: It taught me that you've gotta go after
something, no matter what the odds are. If there's something
you're interested in you've got to go try it. You could
surprise yourself and it taught me that being an honest and
sincere person who's friendly and giving is a lot more
appealing than someone who is political and shakes hands and
puts up babies and tries to do the mass marketing thing.
TI: When did you get the idea for your book "How to Win a High School Election"?
Jeff: When I was first deciding to run I thought
wouldn't it be terrific if there was a manual for students,
written by students which would say, "This is what I did
that worked." "This is what I've seen that worked." "Here
are some ideas you might want to steal."
TI: So you actually thought of this when you were a
junior in high school?
Jeff: I did! I wished I had had a book like this.
When I was trying to figure things out on my own, "How
should I go about this?" I wished I had had advice from
people who had been there - done that.
wished I had had advice from people who had been there -
TI: It sure makes a lot of sense. But of course you
didn't have that manual, and you did it on your own. And
learned a lot of things, I'm sure, about what worked and
didn't work. So when did you get the idea again, for the
Jeff: Well the idea stuck with me for years but I
could never really bring myself to write it, because of this
whole pizza thing. I thought "Maybe this was a really
special situation and who am I to hold myself out as an
expert. I only went through high school once and I don't
really know better than anybody else. Maybe I just got
lucky. But who am I to teach everyone how to do it?"
TI: But "teaching everyone how to do it" wasn't your
plan. Your plan was to gather up the advice of other
students who had been through the experience of a high
school election and let them teach everyone how to do
Jeff: Yes! So... I got on America Online's
membership directory and I ended up emailing 16,000 students
with a very sincere plea that said, "You don't know me, but
I'm writing this book and I would love any ideas you have
for speeches, posters, campaign promises, anything you've
seen that was funny, or mistakes you've seen people make.
Ideas you think were valuable. Anything you would tell
somebody who is running for election."
TI: How many responses did you get from your 16,000
Jeff: I got 1,000!
TI: That's very high!
Jeff: I was shocked. But it led me to believe that
high school elections were something that a lot of people
were interested in and that they had a lot of wonderful
TI: Like what?
Jeff: The Number 1 thing I heard was "Don't be
fake, just be yourself!" And these are the people who have
either won elections or vote. And when you're running for
election you don't get the chance for the people to tell you
what they want. But here it is, in the book.
be fake, just be yourself.
TI: What other "good ideas" did you hear a
Jeff: Have the right attitude. Don't be
condescending. Go out and talk to people and be genuine and
be friendly. The typical student government type goes around
and acts like they're doing everyone a big favor. And it
seemed like the students were saying we'd rather vote for
someone who is just one of us than for someone who thinks
they're a teacher. Which of course, makes absolute sense.
But when I was in high school I never thought in those
TI: What other good ideas did the students write to
Jeff: The second most important thing was "have a
great speech." It seems like in high schools all across this
country, funny speeches win elections.
TI: Does that mean that the speeches aren't about
Jeff: No. The winning speeches are serious, but
they're not too serious. The students feel that being a
class officer isn't brain surgery. Being a good class
officer doesn't take any great skills except desire to work
for the class. So the students didn't want to elect someone
who was going to take it too seriously, they'd rather vote
for someone friendly. High school students want to be around
someone who has the attitude of "this is high school. Let's
have a great time!" So the categories in the book are: have
the right attitude, have a great speech, talk to people and
ask them to vote and get your name remembered.
TI: To have had the goal to write this book for 10
years, and to have finally done it is a wonderful
accomplishment. I wonder if you could give some advice about
achieving a goal.
Jeff: I've always believed you really can do
anything you want to do. The only essential ingredient is
desire. You can only be good at something you really care
about. If you find something that your heart is in you will
do it well. Everything great starts at a very ground level.
Sesame Street was started with a frog. Disney was all
started with a mouse. Apple Computer... Ford Motor Company
was a guy tinkering in his garage. It's sort of the same
thing as deciding to run for that election. You just have to
try it and go for it!
Find out more about Jeff's book,
have always believed you really can do anything you
want to do. You can only be good at something you
really care about. Everything great starts at a very
"How to Win a High School Election"
Send email to Jeff at