For many graduating seniors, summer is filled with parties, relaxation, and getaways. However, for SBHS senior Aster O’Leary, this summer will be anything but ordinary. In fact, she’ll play an important role in the American political system representing Vermont Democrats at the national level.
From July 25-28, O’Leary will be one of the 11 Vermont Democratic Party delegates to participate in the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia. A total of 117 people vied for the coveted spots. The Democratic National Convention is held every four years during presidential election season where delegates of the United States Democratic Party choose their nominees for the President of the United States.
Vermont’s delegation to the 2016 Democratic National Convention includes 16 delegates and two alternates (in addition to 10 unpledged delegates). The 16 delegates consist of 11 district level delegates, three at-large delegates, and two pledged Party Leader and Elected Official (PLEO) delegates.
To qualify for the selection, O’Leary followed four steps. First, she cast a Democratic ballot in the 2016 Presidential Primary. Then, she attended the local post-primary presidential town caucus where she was elected to attend the State Democratic Convention. O’Leary then filed a Statement of Candidacy and Pledge of Support form to the Vermont Democratic Party. Finally, she participated at the State Convention at the Barre Opera House on May 22 where she was officially elected to attend the Democratic National Convention.
She has achieved all of this by the age of 18.
Needless to say, this isn’t O’Leary’s first rodeo in the political arena. Last summer, she gained firsthand experience at the American Legion Auxiliary Vermont Girls State and Girls Nation; both are programs designed for young, aspiring women who want to learn the basic ideals and principles of American government.
At Vermont Girls State, which took place last summer at Vermont Technical College, she ran for Lieutenant Governor. When elected, she ran mock senate sessions and met with Vermont Lt. Gov. Phil Scott.
“Winning my bid for Lieutenant Governor made me realize that I could actually be successful in politics,” she said. “I had this in the back of my mind as I went to the State Convention a few weeks ago.”
Subsequently, she was selected as one of 98 young women in the country to attend the 69th annual Girls Nation in Washington, D.C. She spent the week creating a mock legislature, submitting bills and resolutions, participating in senate sessions, holding a national convention, and electing officials such as president and vice president.
At Girls Nation she also visited the Arlington National Cemetery, partook in monument tours, spent a day on Capitol Hill meeting with state senators and representatives, and made a special visit to the White House where she shook hands with President Barack Obama.
“Spending time with such a diverse group of girls who possess a wide array of political views has made me realize how powerful the voice of youth could be in politics,” she said.
These experiences gave O’Leary the confidence to take her passion to the next level.
“After returning from Girls Nation, I wanted to get involved in politics, and I thought being a delegate would be an amazing way for me to play a role in the real-life political process,” she explained. “My social studies teacher, Krista Huling, was a national delegate four years ago, and she helped me run a mini campaign.”
“I view the convention as a way for me to represent a consistently underrepresented political demographic: youth,” she added. “But I also view it as a learning experience. The other members of the Vermont delegation are so accomplished, and many of them have a lot of political experience. I want to learn as much as I can from them.”
Other Vermont district-level delegates include Maria Rinaldi, Mary Sullivan, Claudia Pringles, Laura Simon, Ashley Andreas, Brian Pine, Arshad Hasaan, Noah Detzer, Kevin “Coach” Christie, and Matthew Birong.
Even prior to all of her accomplishments, O’Leary has identified with the Democratic Party on a number of issues.
“I’ve always been a democrat. Many of the issues democrats care about-- education, social welfare, increased access to healthcare, etc. resonate with me as a young person. I’m also aligned with the party on social issues, particularly women’s rights and gay/lesbian rights.”
If you ask her about what she thinks of this political season, she would describe it as exciting, “especially for Vermont.”
“As a Bernie supporter, I have been thrilled with how Senator Sanders’s message is resonating with people all over the nation, and especially with youth.”
O’Leary will be graduating from South Burlington High School on June 10 with the Class of 2016. During her time at SBHS, she has contributed in a number of roles, including being a co-captain of the SBHS varsity girls tennis team, co-president of Future Educators of America, assistant captain of the SBHS Scholars’ Bowl team, and a writer for the Rebelution (school newspaper). She will be attending Rice University in Houston this fall where she hopes to explore career opportunities in academia and her interest in government.
In the meantime, her focus is on fundraising through a GoFundMe account to help meet the cost of attending the Democratic National Convention this summer.
“I’ve been so fortunate to have some really supportive people in my life who inspired me to become a delegate,” she said.
SOURCE: Miranda Jonswold, Correspondent