In about a month, my name will be on the ballot for School Director of a small rural school district in Clearfield County. If elected, it will make me one of the youngest directors in the state. Here’s why I jumped into the political arena and the lessons I’ve learned.
I decided to run for numerous reasons. As a former student of the district, I witnessed the challenges it faced firsthand. I saw classrooms struggling to provide quality education as the district was plagued by high staff turnover, out-of-date technology, and burnt-out educators. Our budgets were inflated, and the taxes were some of the highest in the area. The disconnect between the school board and the people they served left a void in representation, and I wanted to fill it. Soon after graduating high school, I officially announced my candidacy, driven by the belief that I could be a voice for the community and a champion of change.
The euphoria of announcing my candidacy was short-lived, as my age and experience were immediately brought into question by the incumbent candidates running for re-election. Criticisms like this pushed my ambition to run even further, as I may not know everything there is to know about balancing budgets or making policies, but I know the struggles everyday students face in our district, and I’m dedicated to trying to fix them. Thankfully, most of these concerns subsided as I canvassed the community, but the topic still lingered every now and then.
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I ran my campaign out of my 2010 Honda Civic. There, I juggled phone calls from disgruntled parents, drafted Facebook posts, and tried to familiarize myself with election law. I took crash courses in education and tax policy online and basically had a standing reservation at my education professor’s office hours, where we talked about everything from rural education to teacher salaries. I did most of my campaigning during the week on social media and went out to meet the voters on the weekends. In comparison to the everyday college student, my headspace was likely somewhere it shouldn’t have been, but I’d do it again if I could.
Against all odds, I managed to make it through the primary, coming in second place on the Republican ballot. I garnered around 700 votes. Since the May primary, I’ve spent my summer doing community parades and meeting with voters along the way. I’ve oriented my campaign towards my goals of reducing taxes and cutting wasteful spending, and as election day nears, I’ll be out and about knocking on doors and spreading the word about the campaign.
So, what did I learn from this journey of being an impromptu politician?
What I’ve learned is that regardless of immediate skepticism, voters are willing to elect youthful candidates; they simply need the opportunity to do so. The voice of my generation is notably absent from the ballots and our legislative bodies. In 2023, the Pew Research Center found that the median age of U.S. House members was 57 years old, with the median age of a Senator being 65. This underrepresentation also extends to our state legislatures, with a few exceptions — interestingly, even though the Pennsylvania constitution mandates that House members must be at least 21 and Senators at least 25 years old. The gap persists with political involvement too, with a poll from Hamilton College finding that only 29 percent of Americans aged 18–24 had considered going into politics. It’s a minoritized demographic I hope to see change.
While some critics still argue that the youth are inexperienced and unqualified, deterring young candidates from running, I’d argue that youth isn’t a barrier to effective governance, but rather an opportunity to infuse new energy with innovative ideas. We should embrace it. We shouldn’t judge candidates because of their age, but rather their actions. We need a new wave of young, energized leaders who are willing to cross party lines, bust through political polarization, and work together for the best interest of the American people. With the rise of PACs and interest groups taking particular interest in getting younger people to run, I hope to see candidate rates among the Gen Z population rise in the next few election cycles. The future of our nation depends on it.
As for my own future, I hope to win this election and serve the people of the Moshannon Valley School District for the next four years.
Zane Hensal is the Republican nominee for Moshannon Valley School Director and a Political Science major at Bucknell University.