When senior Braeden Foldenauer organized a watch party of the first presidential debate for his fellow students at the Mississippi School for Mathematics, he didn’t expect a big turnout.
“I figured it’d just be a handful of kids who were nerdy like me about the debates,” he said.
He was shocked when more than 100 MSMS students arrived in Hooper Auditorium to tune in to the debate between Democrat Hillary Clinton and Republican Donald Trump, with yet more students watching in the dormitories.
Foldenauer is co-president of the school’s Young Democrats club, along with senior Wrishija Roy. Neither is old enough to vote in November, but their club organized the watch party. The same week, they teamed up with the school’s Young Republicans and Young Independents to register voters on Mississippi University for Women’s campus.
“This is going to be the administration that marks our transition into adulthood,” Foldenauer said. “So I feel like even if we are unable to vote, it’s still important be informed, especially since whoever wins this election is most likely going to be running for re-election. …I think it’s incredibly essential that we keep up with it.”
Foldenauer and Roy aren’t the only area teens finding ways to be politically involved. From organizing mock elections and registering over-18s to vote to merely discussing — and sometimes arguing about — the candidates and issues, kids in the Golden Triangle are making their own voices heard.
“It’s definitely going to impact our country,” said Dalton Ford, senior and president of the Student Government Association at Heritage Academy in Columbus. “I think that everybody should vote that is eligible. I’m definitely going to try and stay as involved as I can even, though I can’t vote, and just keep up with it because it definitely impacts me too.”
SGA at Heritage is participating in Promote the Vote, a program to educate kids about government and get them involved in the political process. Students can get involved in a variety of ways, said Heritage U.S. history teacher Deb Shelton, from holding their own mock elections to writing speeches and running their own campaigns.
For Heritage students this year, SGA will hold an informative assembly on Oct. 20 where students grades 5-12 can hear from local politicians from the Democratic, Republican, Green and Libertarian parties. SGA will also hold a mock election for all the students, including elementary.
Aside from organized events, students are discussing the election in and out of class. And like voters, the teens don’t always agree.
While discussing the election in a classroom after school Thursday, a group of students on the Starkville High School debate team disagreed about whether Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton would be a good choice for the country’s first woman president.
Senior Catherine Li said a woman president would garner the female gender more respect generally. But sophomore Dylan Fort, who supports Trump, said a Clinton presidency would only damage women.
“It’s just going to honestly make women look worse if we have a woman as president that happens to be Hillary Clinton,” Fort said.
The issues students care about also vary — several with college on their brains care about student loans, but international policy, cyber security, the deficit and health care were also concerns.
Plenty were unimpressed with the choices of candidates.
“You have somebody with no political experience versus somebody with awful political experience,” Heritage senior William Yingst said. “I think it’s kind of a toss-up in a lot of people’s minds. And I think watching the debates and seeing the commentary and stuff from the debate, it’s just [about] who looked like less of an idiot.”
You can help your community
Quality, in-depth journalism is essential to a healthy community. The Dispatch brings you the most complete reporting and insightful commentary in the Golden Triangle, but we need your help to continue our efforts. Please consider subscribing to our website for only $2.30 per week to help support local journalism and our community.