I still remember the night I decided to run for a position on the Roseburg School Board of Directors. I was 18 and living at home, having graduated from Roseburg High School the previous June.
A distant family member who served on the board had decided to step down after many years and called my mother, Syndi, asking her to run. Already on several boards and committees for other organizations, my mom said, "No."
I, on the other hand, decided, "Why not?" I figured it was worth a try, so I filed the paperwork to run in the March 2001 election, not really expecting to win.
One thing you should know about me before reading further is that I'm fairly laid back -- until someone tells me I can't do something. I didn't devote a lot of time or energy into the race until I read an article in which my opponent said he "wasn't worried" because I was "only 18." Game on, sir.
From that point, I attended every community forum and spoke at every event I could. I sent out handwritten letters to family, friends and acquaintances within the district.
I honestly don't remember the date of the election, but my parents took me out to dinner that night as we waited for results. They were as shocked as I was when I found out I'd won.
I took office in July, completely unaware of the enormity of helping to run a district of several thousand students in grades K-12. We had twice-monthly meetings to work on district issues, but also met in subcommittees multiple times a week. Topics ranged from what kind of flooring to install in a new high school building to which programs to cut due to budget restrictions.
I cannot stress enough the incredible patience of the district staff and my fellow board members, who likely had their doubts about an 18-year-old board member, but never expressed them. Instead, I was offered incredible support and knowledge.
In 2001, Oregon was in a recession and the state legislature sliced educating funding. That forced districts around the state to tighten their belts and Roseburg was no exception. The board faced incredibly difficult choices about which programs to maintain and which to cut.
Here I was, a three-year member of the forensics team (think speech and debate, not fingerprinting) and former president of the French Club, asked to vote to eliminate the French program altogether and halve forensics' travel budget. "Overwhelmed" doesn't begin to cover the emotions I felt as the board navigated this very difficult time.
Three years into my four-year term, I received a job offer in Boise, Idaho, and had to make a decision: pursue the career for which I'd trained in college or follow my newfound passion for politics. In the end, I chose Boise and journalism.
My career has taken me all over the country to cover just about any topic you can imagine. Many times, I've found myself falling back on what I learned in those three years on the Roseburg School Board: budgeting, state policies, how the legislature works, etc. It's an experience for which I am incredibly grateful.