Maplewood Opinion Schools / Kids South Orange Towns

Columbia High School Student Finds His Voice at DNC


Stephen Lehren, left, a rising sophomore at CHS, with a friend at the JSA Presidential Election Symposium.
Stephen Lehren, left, a rising sophomore at CHS, with a friend at the JSA Presidential Election Symposium.

While I watched teary eyed on television the nomination of a woman for president with my voting-age daughter, it was my 16-year-old son I picked up from the Democratic National Convention, his bags overflowing with Hillary placards. Stronger. Together.

“It’s been a weird, weird week, Mom,” he said. Not the words I was hoping to hear. But a start.

I might learn more on Nickelodeon, where he told me he was interviewed about his top pick for a new White House pet. “Unicorn.” Or more seriously in the Washington Post from a reporter who asked his views as a millennial and still Bernie supporter. “America is already great and we can improve upon it. If Hillary Clinton wins and she follows through on her platform, she can become one of our best presidents ever.”

Stephen is part of the JSA chapter at Columbia High School – the Junior State of America, a political student-run organization that offered an opportunity for students across the nation to attend a Presidential Election Symposium based at Villanova University.

He spent his days listening, from Sen. Cory Booker at the New Jersey delegate breakfast (a highlight) and Hillary Clinton’s campaign manager Robby Mook, to Carole King singing “You Got a Friend” on the floor of the convention.

It was exhilarating, and frustrating. He listened behind stage as Hillary Clinton accepted the Democratic nomination, the words of her speech muffled in his teenage-not-ready-for-primetime perch. “You can’t truly appreciate how stressful it was,” he told me. “You’re there, but can’t be there.”

Outside and at the afternoon caucuses, he told a different story, of meeting and talking with protestors — “the nicest people I’ve ever met” — Black Lives Matter, immigrant rights, the Green Party, anti-drones, and learning how they organize and fight for their ideas.

The takeaway? While hoarse, Stephen discovered he has a voice. One just as important as those he heard. And as a mother, that both my children, my daughter — and son — are engaged in a future still to be determined.


Marilyn Joyce Lehren lives in South Orange with her husband and their two increasingly political children.

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