Most people know that being a teenager and figuring out what to do after high school can be tough. Few look to add “elected official” into the mix.
On Tuesday, 19-year-old Luke Stephenson defeated longtime Danville School Board at-large member Brandon Lawson, by a vote count of 2,666 (51.37 percent) to 2,524 (48.63 percent), to become one of the youngest people in Indiana’s history to hold public office.
Stephenson, a 2012 Danville graduate, said he ran because he didn’t like the direction the school corporation was going.
“Our schools were ranked at the bottom of the county, which to me was unacceptable,” he said. “I really wanted to get in there as someone who’s just come through the school corporation and say ‘this is what works, this isn’t what works. Let’s work with the
teachers to find out what works.’ Just coming out of there, I have a good relationship with a lot of the teachers.”
Stephenson said some people might look at his age and the fact that he just graduated as a disadvantage — but that’s not how he sees it.
“I think it’s one of my biggest advantages ... because like the iPads, that’s a big deal at Danville High School,” he said. “Now they’ve put them throughout the corporation. No one else who ran for the school board can say that they went through a single (school) day with an iPad. I can say I went through 180 of those days. I think, for me, that gives me a type of experience they don’t have.”
In addition to his duties as a school board member, Stephenson said he is going to college as well. “I’m majoring in education,” he said. “I plan on going to law school at some point. I knew I wanted to run this campaign, so I decided to go to Ivy Tech for a semester and go to classes in Avon — which is very convenient — and live at home. Now I’m looking at transferring to
IUPUI and still living at home. That way I can be very accessible to anyone who needs it.”
Stephenson said he isn’t looking too far down the road when it comes to future political endeavors.
“This is a very political answer, but I’m focusing on the office that I just recently won,” he said. “I wouldn’t be opposed to it. At this point, I think both major parties would have to change a little bit before I would feel comfortable. I was a split ticket, and I liked candidates on both sides of the aisle. I think we need to meet in the middle instead of trying to be so extreme most of the time.
“I’m a political junkie, you could say. I watch races here in Indiana and across the nation. I like that sort of stuff. I served on a board downtown (and) we worked with the General Assembly. I know about politics, to say the least.”
Stephenson said he’s not overly concerned with having to make concessions to fulfill his school board duties.
“I think there are some things where I’m giving up a little bit,” he said. “ ... Always through school, I was the kind of kid who was directing a musical, vice president of the student council, manager on the basketball team, so I always had my hand in every pot.
Responsibility is something that I’ve kind of had to deal with, and doing 4-H really helped me out with that.
“I think what I’m giving up, I’m gaining even more and (gaining) things that will help me in the long run. I’m still getting an education, which to me is the most important part.”
Being the youngest person on the school board, Stephenson said he’s looking forward to working with his fellow board members.
“I was expecting to work with adults,” he said. “Obviously, there weren’t any other 19-year-olds running, or anyone under the age of 35 that I know of. I’ve always gotten along with adults fine.”
He said communication with the other candidates was key to his victory.
“Luckily for me, I talked to all the candidates who were running, and especially the two who won,” he said. “We all kind of had this same idea ... of where the board should go, and where the school corporation should go. So part of it was talking to candidates beforehand and making sure everyone was on the same page. I’m not nervous about it. I’m excited.”
He said the idea to run began to form during the fall of his senior year, when he took a government class taught by Mike Neilson, who also serves on the Danville Town Council.
In the end, he said, it came down to his to desire to fix things for his generation and those who will follow.
“You always hear politicians and the media say we’re piling up this debt and we’re doing this or doing that, and the next generation’s going to have to take care of it, this is something the next generation’s going to have to deal with,” he said. “My philosophy is, I am the next generation, and you guys are messing it up now. I might as well start taking over now, and trying to get these things fixed, whether it be at a local, state, or national level.”