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Headshot of Phoebe Chambers

Phoebe Chambers

Class Representative, 2020 High School Program

In June, I ran for office for the first time: SGA President. I had a great group of friends supporting me. I was qualified. I had endorsements from students of every grade, gender, race, ethnicity, and religion. I posted speeches and my platform on my Instagram. I even had a great slogan — Chambers for Change.

My heart broke when the election results came out and I lost. My friends blamed it on poor turnout or technical issues with the ballot, but I thought I wasn’t likable enough. Maybe I came across as too bossy or angry with the current SGA. Maybe politics wasn’t my thing after all.

A few weeks later, I logged into the first Zoom for the Running Start High School Program. My heart was beating so fast in the waiting room. I thought the other girls wouldn’t like me, that I would face the same problems as I had when running for SGA President. Everyone else had accomplished so many amazing things. Finally, I was let into the meeting. I scrolled through the faces on the screen and saw girls of different ages, ethnicities, and races. I looked in the chat and saw that almost everyone was from someplace different. Some of the girls weren’t even residing in the United States at the moment!

After a warm welcome to the program from Susannah Wellford, we went into breakout rooms to meet our campaign teams and interns for our 6-week long campaign simulation. My intern, Breely, greeted us from the Running Start House in D.C. with a friendly wave and smile, making all of us feel included. I was randomly selected to be the candidate for my campaign team, which excited but also terrified me. My campaign team and I clicked immediately. The next day, we had a Zoom call and stayed on for two hours talking about non-campaign related topics. I mentioned that I wanted to run for office and that my dream job was to be a Congresswoman because of "Knock Down the House". We figured out our first campaign event: a documentary screening hosted by Chambers for Congress. 

One of my favorite moments from the program was a campaign ad workshop from Kelly Gibson. It was empowering to see women who looked like me depicted in campaign ads as strong, powerful leaders.

I began to see myself in the role of politician not as a dream, but as a reality — and the Running Start team was going to help me make that happen.

The best part of possibly the entire program was the Congressional Reception. Powerful Representatives and Senators from across party lines came to speak to us. My favorite person that I met was Congresswoman Angie Craig. She mentioned that she had lost the first time she ran for Congress. After recently losing an election myself, I wanted to know how she worked up the courage to run again. She told me that if you run for something, the most important thing is to be authentic regardless if you win or lose. Congresswoman Craig told the group a story of how she didn’t talk about her wife the first time she ran. But the second time, her wife was one of the first things that she mentioned in her campaign ad. That way, if she lost, she would know that she lost as herself and not somebody she wasn’t. Once I heard that, I knew that what matters most is the courage to try again as your authentic self.

Another highlight was the Young Women Electeds panel, particularly West Lafayette City Councilmember Shannon Kang. The fact that a college student who was three years older than me could hold elected office was mind-blowing. I thought that I would go to college and then run for office, but I can do both at once.

Finally, the last week of the program began with a primary election for the campaign simulation. I lost the primary election, but it didn’t sting because my party would be represented by an amazing woman who would go on to win the general election. I then decided to run for Class Representative since I loved this program so much — and I won! This was my first election victory, and it certainly won’t be my last. Thank you, Running Start, for empowering me with the confidence I needed to understand that I can run for office and win.

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