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Lo takes on responsibilities as JSA’s Northeast State Governor

November 1, 2017

Varshini Ramanathan
JSA’s Northeast State Governor, senior Derek Lo.

On Tuesday afternoons, some of the school’s most politically active students gather in Room 103 to argue current events. No matter the subject, the room is always alight with opinions, and of these voices, one stands out: senior Derek Lo, who has achieved the prestigious position of Northeast State Governor for the student organization, the Junior State of America.

It is rare to find a student so transformed by an extracurricular as Lo was by JSA; it has shaped not only his future plans but his personality, his skillset, and his approach to life.

“Serving the state has really changed who I am as a person,” Lo said.

The Junior State of America, or JSA, “allows for an exchange of ideas through stimulating student debates, thought talks, problem-solving, and a variety of simulations”, according to its website. That is, students who are passionate about politics are able to express their opinions while gaining experience in debating and current events knowledge. The organization is primarily run by students, and as such, its student leaders take on a significant load. They plan and carry out all conventions, conference proceedings, and political events.

Lo, who ran for Governor of his state in the spring of his junior year, began preparing for his campaign in December of 2016. He announced his participation in February of the following year in Washington DC at the NES Winter Congress, and after an intensive six-week campaign, he was elected to his position in April.

The roots of his dedication to JSA go back to 2014 when he was a freshman attending the Westford Academy’s activity fair. Lo had always been interested in politics and current events and saw JSA as the perfect balance between a less competitive, debate-focused organization that also had political elements to it. He was chiefly inspired, though, by the fact that the organization was largely student-run.

A rather reserved freshman, Lo at first tended not to participate in class discussions and would only attend the chapter meetings, choosing not to attend conventions.

“I was kind of just staying within a bubble, in a sense,” he says of his past self.

However, once he began attending conferences and conventions, he began to see the scope of JSA that reached far beyond his local chapter. His interest in the organization mounted, and he considers the end of his freshman year to be when he began to become serious about the organization. This newfound dedication was marked by his decision to run for regional cabinet at the end of the school year, and he secured positions as the New England Regional Conference Coordinator and the Westford Academy Conference Coordinator for his sophomore year.

For Lo, the spring of his sophomore year was to be a transformative experience as a member of JSA, as he ran for Mayor of his region and lost. The loss shook him but did not deter him. On the contrary, it forced him to reevaluate his speaking style and improve himself for his campaign for State Governor. He described it as “bittersweet” to come back to an elected position after his loss the previous year, but reflected that the failure had shaped his newfound success.

“Especially after I lost the election [for Mayor] I realized I have to actually get out there. Meet people, talk to others,” he said. “I tended not to prescript my speeches as much, I would kind of go in with a few bullet points. I tried to make sure to reach out to everyone in the audience.”

As such, in his junior year, Lo decided to participate in another election due to his past experience with coordinating conferences and campaigning for an election. His support team numbered around 20, consisting of a campaign manager from Connecticut as well as support from all three states in the region he was running for — Connecticut, Massachusetts, and New York. He ran against the other Northeast State Convention Coordinator, Holden Higgins, who attends a school in New York City.

Lo put in tremendous effort during those six weeks, attending five out of six campaign events across all three states. He not only had to gain support within his chapter but had to reach out to chapter leaders and lobby votes from across the region. Although initially hesitant to reach out to his audience and voters, he eventually grew more comfortable with the process.

After his win, though, was when Lo’s responsibilities truly began. The summer following the election, he attended the Montezuma National Leadership Summit. He had gone as a delegate from the Northeast when he was entering his junior year, but now took on the role of mentor and role model rather than trainee.

However, his favorite part of being the State Governor is working with other student leaders:

“I’ve been really enjoying working with the cabinet and the other elected officials,” he said. 

This includes reviewing cabinet application, of which there were 60-70 this summer, registering chapters for the upcoming fall state convention in Boston, and carrying out reforms to both the cabinet and the state constitution. All in all, Lo puts in about 20-25 hours a week into his duties at JSA.

The increased workload certainly contributes to his stress levels, especially as college applications deadlines loom, but Lo reflects that his experiences at JSA have prepared him for time management. Even beyond school, he has learned what it is like to be responsible for others.

“With schoolwork, you’re accountable to just yourself. With JSA, I’m accountable to several hundred people across the Northeast,” he said. 

According to Westford Academy’s chapter president, Harini Boddu, Lo succeeds in living up to those expectations. She calls him collaborative and open-minded, saying that he does not put his ideas first. Lo seconds that statement, considering that being receptive to others is the only real key to success in JSA.

“I don’t think there’s a specific skill set you need [to be successful at JSA] but one big thing you need is to be open-minded. You really need to be open-minded,” he said.

Lo hopes to maintain that quality when it comes to the changes he and the rest of JSA’s student leaders are planning to make to the organization. His key goals include improving participation rates, seeing as they have gone down in recent years. He also strives to increase the organization’s transparency and accessibility, especially to low-income students.

“A number of students come from low-income areas in the city, so we want to make sure, through the scholarships, that JSA is accessible. Oftentimes, JSA is the only place, when they come to these conventions, that they can really be able to have their perspectives and opinions heard,” he said.

Lo’s sense of responsibility for others is what prompts Boddu to call him dedicated and meticulous as well. According to her, he goes above and beyond his duties in the chapter to ensure that his chapter is functioning at its best.

“He’s probably one of the most dedicated people to the organization, and everything he does is so dedicated to JSA. He will go out of his way not only to make sure that the state is doing well, which is his role, but our chapter, where he doesn’t have to — it’s not his responsibility, but he still makes sure that happens,” she said.

“He just bleeds JSA,” she added.

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