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January 3, 2006 > Students examine government at mock convention

Students examine government at mock convention

by Mekala Raman

Early in the morning of Dec. 5, hundreds of Mission San Jose High School (MSJHS) seniors filed into room C-120, adjusting their formal business attire and taking their respective seats in anticipation of the day's events. More than 500 "delegates" gathered at the Mock Convention 2005, to select a candidate who would represent the "Mission Party" in the presidential election.

Though the Mock Convention takes place on only one day, students spend a month of intensive preparation for the event, including joining committees, supporting a candidate, making decorations, and participation as state delegates.

This event began 21 years ago when Mission San Jose government teacher Mark Mattingly introduced the idea to the school; it became an annual tradition. He has also been instrumental in starting conventions at other high schools.

Mock Convention provides a hands-on, real-life experience that students would otherwise simply read about in a textbook. It allows students to explore government and learn how they can make a difference in our society. Students boldly approached the stage and stated their views to the entire senior class including ideas and arguments regarding domestic partners, family planning/abortion, health care and the uninsured, national economy, separation of church and state, domestic security, foreign policy, energy/environment, immigration, and race/poverty.

Prior to the convention, party candidates, radical Nuveen Dhingra, liberal George Xu, conservative Greg Barton, and ultraconservative Mark Stambaugh, participated in debates about each of the aforementioned issues. Dhingra and Xu, members of the debate club, were very serious. Barton argued with austere patriotism and humorous allusions to himself as the "one-legged patriot" (he had broken his leg and was in a cast during the debates). Ultraconservative candidate, Stambaugh had a very difficult job presenting arguments that were contrary to his true more liberal beliefs; he served as comic relief at the event.

The rest of the senior class had been busy since September, putting in an enormous amount of effort required to reach produce the convention. Many students joined one of the six committees: rules, publicity, broadcast, newspaper, webpage, and debate. The Rules Committee decided appropriate debate procedures, advertising, and decorations. Publicity was responsible for notifying media and notable community members about the event and the Broadcast Committee prepared a "newsreel" that introduced the senior class to the candidates.

The newspaper committee put together a paper that described the candidates and progress of the event. A Webpage Committee designed a webpage that listed the candidates, their platforms, and offered forums for the students to post their ideas. Finally, the Debate Committee was in charge of decorations, sound system, and other technical aspects of the convention.

Students supported candidates of their choice in a variety of ways; extensive research, advertising, etc. The ultraconservative party put on a patriotic show. Some girls in the group dressed as "apple pie ladies," wearing aprons and oven mitts to school. The group also sold apple pies at lunchtime to further enhance the image and raise funds for their campaign. Each candidate's party created imaginative posters with witty slogans that could be found in every nook and cranny of the campus.

The decoration committee converted C-120 into a star-spangled array of posters and signs portraying each of the candidates. Each state delegation was required to set up three-dimensional posters and wall posters representing the special attributes of that state, such as the state bird, state flower, etc.

Convention day arrived and students gathered into C-120 to witness the culmination of their hard work. After the Pledge of Allegiance and the National Anthem, sung by the school's Chamber Chorale, FUSD Superintendent Doug Gephardt delivered the Keynote Address and the convention was open. Once the debates for were over, students delivered nominating speeches for the four candidates and the delegates began the voting process. In the first round, Stambaugh and Barton were eliminated and Dhingra and Xu faced off. In a close contest, liberal candidate Xu was named the Mission Party's presidential candidate and he gave his acceptance speech with "The Imperial March" (a.k.a. Darth Vader's music from Star Wars) playing in the background. At the conclusion of the convention, all four candidates joined together and agreed to be unified in supporting the liberal platform.

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