Toward the end of my junior year at San Gabriel High School in California, I decided to run for the office of student body president. The school had something on the order of 2500 students.
There were several candidates competing, but my most substantial rival was a fellow who had, I think, served on our freshman, sophomore, and junior class councils, and as president of at least one of the classes and perhaps two. An obviously popular guy, he never made a secret of the fact that he was going to be student body president. It was, in a sense, his by right, his destiny, and, for years, he had been systematically laying the groundwork for this election.
We weren’t close friends, but we were, I think, friends. And we got along pretty well.
I can’t really remember at this remove in time — it’s been (frightening thought!) fully forty-three years now — but I believe that there was an initial balloting, which he and I survived, and then a run-off.
I beat him. In fact, unless I’m mistaken, I beat him fairly handily.
Maybe his publicly-expressed certainty had rubbed people the wrong way. I don’t know.
Anyway, I recall sitting in the auditorium with a relatively large crowd, waiting for the results to be announced. And then there was some celebrating. But, finally, I stepped out alone onto one of the covered campus walkways. It was dark. Nighttime.
And there he was. Sitting on a bench under a light, sobbing bitterly. He didn’t see me, and I quietly, quickly, retreated around a corner.
I have to say, though, that it took something of the glow off of my victory that night. I don’t believe that I was anywhere near as elated as he was brokenhearted, and that sobered me. I almost wished that I could simply hand the office to him.
I don’t really remember the waiting in the auditorium, or the moment of the announcement, or breaking the news to my parents, or celebrating with my girlfriend. I know that I did those things, but I have no visual images for them. The sight of him crying there, seated on that bench, remains etched in my memory with absolute clarity.
I’ve never quite been able to lose sight of the fact, since then, that, in order for somebody to win, somebody else, very commonly, has to lose. And that tempers the thrill of victory very substantially.