Victorious regret

Victorious regret June 13, 2019


The San Gabriel Mission in California
The Mission San Gabriel Arcángel, founded in 1771, was visible from my high school.
(Wikimedia Commons public domain photograph)


I was elected student body president at my high school.  Here’s a note about that:


I had never, I think, held (or run for) an office in student government.  (My memory is actually a bit fuzzy on this point:  It’s possible that I once served on a class council.  I really don’t remember.)


But there was somebody — let’s call him SB (for “somebody,” not his initials) — who had been class president at least once and possibly twice, and who was widely expected to run for and to win the presidency of the overall student body.


(By the way, I share William Strunk’s dislike for the term student body, which he regarded as rather “cadaverous.”  Unfortunately, though, his suggested replacement, studentry — as in “president of the studentry” — has never caught on.  Not even close.)


Curiously, though, I had myself occasionally thought about running for student body president and, when the time came, I did.


I won.  Rather handily, if I’m not mistaken.  And that yielded a pretty good feeling.


The votes were counted in the evening, after dark, and I remember walking along one of the campus hallways after hearing the news, heading toward my car with considerable satisfaction.  Then I turned a corner.  And there, to my uncomfortable surprise, I saw SB sitting on a bench with his head in his hands, sobbing.


I quickly withdrew, embarrassed, and I don’t think that he ever knew that I had been there.


But I’ve never forgotten the image.  It’s stayed with me for nearly half a century.


SB had badly, desperately, wanted to be student body president.  Moreover, he had assumed, like everybody else on campus, that he would be.  It wasn’t an unreasonable assumption.


By contrast, I hadn’t cared all that much.  It was ego-gratifying to be elected, and I’m sure that being able to put “student body president” down on the forms didn’t hurt my college applications.  But I wouldn’t have been devastated, I certainly wouldn’t have cried, had I lost.


Truth be told, to some degree at least the sight of him crying ruined my evening.  It blunted my pleasure in my own victory to know that it had caused pain to someone — and, particularly, to someone whom I actually rather liked.  He wasn’t a bad guy.


I wondered if winning had been worth it.  I actually thought that maybe I should simply resign and had the office over to him as the runner-up.


I learned something that night about the ambiguity of life.  Perhaps I grew up just a bit.


For some reason, that incident crossed my mind just now.  I don’t think about it, or about having been student president, more than about once every five or ten years.  For twenty seconds at a time.  It seems like another person altogether.


I hope SB is doing well.  I lost touch with him immediately upon graduation.  I saw something about him a few years after that — I think that he had married his remarkably cute high school sweetheart — but that’s the last that I’ve ever heard.



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