MILLBURN, NJ - College applications and the strenuous amount of work that ensues while being a student at Millburn High School was no deterrent for Millburn High School senior Chase Harrison, who was elected to the one-year Board of Education term left vacant by Jean Pasternak.
The 18-year-old student defeated incumbent and Board Vice-President Rona Wenik Tuesday night. Harrison earned 52 percent of the vote to become the youngest elected official ever in the state of New Jersey.
After the victory, Harrison reflected on his accomplishment and told The Alternative Press, “Being the youngest elected official means a lot to me because it means that voters are ready to take youth seriously. Our high school students have a tremendous potential to contribute productively in politics, whether it is in volunteering, or giving their perspective on issues. This election shows that the public is ready to accept youth as legitimate participants in politics.”
The senior will join Emily Jaffe, John Westfall-Kwong and Michael King, who also won Board of Education seats Tuesday night. Harrison garnered 1,805 votes, while Wenik had 1,653.
The high school senior used social media and the Internet to further his campaign and get a perspective from students. This was noted on election night when Harrison wrote to his supporters, saying, “This election has engaged an unprecedented number of students. Thank you to the Millburn students who have reached out through Facebook, email, and in the halls to offer their support, perspectives, and ideas. If elected, I hope even more of you will engage me and make your voice heard.”
Harrison went on to tell TAP about how he hopes to implement the biggest point of his platform, which is to bring a student voice into the decision-making process. Harrison said, “I hope to show that a high school student can serve maturely and demonstrate how important youth integration is for politics. I am so excited to use this platform to help the students in Millburn.”
Harrison addressed supporters after his victory and said, “Thank you so much to the voters of Millburn-Short Hills for electing me to a one-year term on the Board of Education. I'm elated to be New Jersey's youngest elected official ever, and I'm ready to work hard to show that youth can truly make a difference.”
Harrison will continue to stress the needs of students on the board. He says this is among his top objectives. Harrison said, “Millburn will be seeing many fresh faces and new ideas on the Board of Education…I am ready to use this position to work towards concrete solutions on many of the issues I have discussed throughout the election.”
Harrison, who appears to already be working on his agenda, remains unsure about his plans for the impending year as many of his peers will head to college in the fall. Right now, Harrison is focused on, “showing how productive and trustworthy a student can be.”
Prior to Election Day, Harrison consulted and motivated his supporters by saying, “If we don’t continue this momentum in the polls tomorrow, the focus may once again shift back to the status quo. Now might be our only opportunity to send a clear message: you shouldn’t have to choose between your property values and your students’ health and well-being.”
Millburn’s historic election at first did not seem possible, but Harrison gained eligibility by appealing to Essex County Clerk Christopher Durkin. Durkin’s original decision did not allow the student to run because he was not yet 18 at the time of his application. Harrison persisted and was placed on the ballot, pointing out that he would be 18 before Election Day.