| 22 Feb 2012 | 08:24

    Courage in conviction Everyone liked Mark. What wasn’t to like? He was tall. He was handsome. He had a great smile. He was nice. He was a star athlete. And he had this really mature-looking pokey-outey Adam’s apple, and he could actually grow groovy sideburns with real whiskers. If you were 14 years old in 1969, these things were important - especially the Adam’s apple and the sideburns. So it is no surprise that Mark was elected student body president of Millcreek Junior High that spring in something of a landslide. His only competition was a pudgy, dimpled, dorky bench-warmer, who had no discernable Adam’s apple and who tried to comb his hair down in such a way that it looked like he had sideburns even though he had a better chance of growing hair on his teeth than on his cheeks. Uh, that would be me. It wasn’t a great surprise to me that Mark won the election. He was everything that I was not. But still, when I found out I lost that Friday afternoon, I smiled and shook his hand as bravely as I could, and then I walked out of the school and cried every step of the way home. I really wanted to be student body president. I wanted it even more after I lost the election. I anguished over it all weekend, and by the time I returned to school the following Monday I had concocted a plan to become student body president - with or without sideburns. My campaign to eventually become student body president in high school began that very day. I couldn’t do much about my Adam’s apple, but I could be nice to people. I wasn’t going to suddenly become a star athlete, but I could get involved in every possible activity, which would give me lots of opportunities to be nice to lots more people. From that day on I went out of my way to be active, involved and nice - not necessarily in that order. For the next three years, I was in everything I could think of - the band, the choir, the Spanish Club, the Key Club and a subversive little group called USA (Underground Spirit Association). I was in plays and musicals, and I volunteered to participate in every school assembly. I did everything I could think of to get myself out there - and to be liked. Of course, there’s nothing inherently wrong with being liked - or, come to think of it, with being nice or being active and involved in school activities. Generally speaking, these are good things for high school students. But I was being nice because I wanted to be student body president, not because it was me. In fact, I sort of lost track of who “me” was along the way. When I was around the band kids I acted like a band kid. When I was around the drama kids I acted like a drama kid. When I was around the churchy kids I acted churchy. And when I was around the parking lot kids, I acted.. well.. not churchy. For three years I adjusted who I was to fit into whatever group I was trying to impress at the time. And it worked. I was elected student body president of Bountiful High School, 1973 - you can look it up. I was, of course, thrilled. And I don’t mind telling you that I was a pretty good student body president. At least, I worked hard at it for the entire year. But when it was over I struggled. I had focused so much of my attention on becoming a student body president that I hadn’t thought much about becoming “me.” So when I wasn’t the student body president anymore, I had no idea what to do or how to think, because I had no idea who I was. I had lived and thought and acted politically correctly for so long that it took a few years - and a lot of really dumb decisions - before I figured out who I really was and what I really believed and the kind of person I really wanted to be. Which is why I am always impressed - and respectfully jealous - when I hear about young people who fearlessly stand for what they truly believe. Recently, it was the beauty pageant contestant who was asked a direct question during a nationally televised pageant about an emotionally charged social/moral/political issue. She easily could have taken a middle-of-the road position that probably would have improved her chances for victory in the competition. But she didn’t hesitate. She responded immediately with an answer from her heart that, by all accounts, probably cost her the title for which she had been working for so very long. A few days later she was given another opportunity in front of a national television audience to recant her position. “Why would I do that?” she asked. “This is who I am. This is what I believe. If I said anything else I would not be true to myself.” I don’t know about you, but I’m in awe of that kind of courage in personal conviction. Whether or not you agree with the position she took, you have to admire a young person who knows who they are and what they believe, and is willing to say it to the world. Political correctness notwithstanding.