Submitted by Charles Herndon,
Baltimore County Public Schools
On Tuesday, January 20, 2037 – just 6,900 days from now, give or take – Jasmaine Parker, Randallstown High School Class of 2018, will be sworn in as President of the United States.
You heard it here first. But you didn’t hear it from the 18-year-old senior herself, at least not officially.
“No, being president is not in my framework right now,” she says diplomatically, the way all aspirants do, keeping her options open. “But in the back of my mind, I hear ‘You know you would want to. . . .’ If I was to be a President Parker someday, I would want people to believe me when I tell them, ‘I am someone you can stand behind.’”
She takes a rare pause between the profusion of excited ideas and thoughts that pour out. “I could be,” she says under her breath. “I could be the youngest president.”
Then, reverie over, she’s off again, speaking in torrents about her passion for politics, her love of art and writing, her leadership of Randallstown’s DECA, Future Business Leaders, and Mock Trial teams, and her frustration at why more contemporaries simply don’t seem to take their democratic freedoms seriously enough.
“How come people my age don’t want to learn about these things?” she asks, referring to her experience this year as one of seven pages for the Maryland State Senate. “How come they don’t vote? People just seem to get too angry about issues; I’m not into the politics so much. I just want to know what there is to know.”
That enthusiasm, infectious and bubbly, sounds familiar to Jim Dyson, a magnet coordinator at Randallstown and a mentor to Jasmaine since Grade 9. “She’s the ultimate epitome of the self-starting, self-planning student,” he says. “If we could clone her . . . .”
Now, however, in the last semester of her high school career, and as she prepares to study at Stevenson University in the fall, Jasmaine’s main task is to sort out all her interests, channel her eagerness, and select a deliberate course for the future. She knows she’ll be studying English and political science at Stevenson – she set that goal long ago – and that she wants to work on honing her skills now before she needs them in a bigger arena.
“I want to learn how to present myself, how to speak better, even though I get told a lot that I’m beyond my years,” she says. “I know I’m young, even if I don’t talk like I’m young.
“It’s just that I want to be doing so many things,” she says, a flash of impatience crossing her face. “All at once.”
Blossoming in a hurry
Clearly, Jasmaine Parker has places to go and things to do. The youngest of two children of federal government employees – her mother, Sharon Johnson, writes language for healthcare laws, while her father, Keith Williams, prints Congressional documents – she earned her political chops honestly.
“Politics has always been a big, huge thing in our family. I’d love going to where they worked and hearing about what was going on. I wanted to understand it all, though,” she says.
As a student at Church Lane Elementary School and the former Old Court Middle School (now the Northwest Academy of Health Sciences), Jasmaine nurtured both her interest in public policy and her love of learning, starting to watch presidential State of the Union addresses at age 10 and savoring trips to bookstores or the school library. Not being particularly social as a child, she nevertheless began to develop a civic consciousness that continues to inform her opinions today.
“I realized at a young age that, ‘Yeah, I’m a citizen, too,’ and that I could go to city hall and have a foot in these issues that affected me – things like health care, or income disparities, or hate crimes,” she says.
Though she began to plan her trajectory in middle school, high school was where her blossoming began. Or, more precisely, it’s perhaps when Dyson visited Jasmaine’s class at Old Court to talk about the magnet programs at Randallstown, especially the Academy of Finance. She was intrigued, she says, and signed up for the Academy of Finance classes “before I knew what they were.”
High school was hard, at first, she says, but with Dyson’s guidance and the business lessons she began to learn – dressing for success, coding, making a good impression – she gained the confidence to join the school’s business and leadership clubs, eventually becoming president of DECA, lead cabinet member of FBLA, and vice president of the Mock Trial team, where she polished her presentation, speaking, and debating skills.
She learned a valuable lesson in moderation, too. By jumping into so many activities, and by tapping into her already formidable sense of determination, Jasmaine developed an ulcer at the age of 15. “I was too stressed,” she says, grinning at the painful memory. “I thought to myself, ‘You’re too young for this,’ and I backed off a bit. It was a lot to take on, but I like ‘a lot.’ We have so many opportunities out there.”
Ulcer or no ulcer, Jasmaine says she sought more challenges, and relished issues-oriented discussions in her history and government classes. And, true to form, she was already thinking five steps ahead to what the next chapters in her life would hold. “I’ve loved it here, but truthfully,” she says, “I was over high school before I got to high school.”
Which is only to say that Jasmaine has been impatient to learn more since, well, always; “I get bored,” she says. So, this school year, she jumped at an offer from Marsha Koger, magnet coordinator and teacher of the school’s Academy of Health Professions, to try out for the Maryland legislature’s page program.
“When I thought about who would be passionate for this program, of course I thought of Jasmaine,” Koger says. “She is a phenomenal and hard-working student, and very driven. She started researching colleges when she was in the ninth grade! She is very professional, too, and that’s why when she was interested in the Maryland General Assembly Page program, I thought she was the perfect candidate.”
From the State House to Stevenson
Jasmaine’s experience this semester in Annapolis has been gratifying. “You’re right there where laws get put into place,” she says. She heads back to the state house later this month for the ending of the General Assembly. She’s been told, “things really get heated in the final weeks.”
She’s looking forward to it. “You recognize the passion in people,” she says. “Look, I come from a liberal household, but I was taught to be neutral. Liberal or conservative, Democrat or Republican – they’re all labels. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve begun to realize that we’re all just human beings. I want that. I want to represent that. . . . I want to grow into someone I could support.”
For now, though, graduation beckons. Looking back on her time at Randallstown, she appreciates the school’s sense of family, of what she calls “family values.” When she was in Grade 8, Jasmaine says, she wanted to go to George Washington Carver Center for Arts and Technology, to indulge her love of art or writing. But in Randallstown, she discovered a place where people cared about her and wanted to help her achieve “where I wanted to go and do what I wanted to do.”
Stevenson, too, represents a touchstone for Jasmaine. It will be, she says, someplace “I can call home.” And when she’s done there, and possibly after a higher degree – then what? You know she’s already thinking about the next steps, this vivacious child of possibilities.
“I could write a best-selling book or own an art gallery, and that would make me happy,” Jasmaine says. “But I know politics has to be involved. And I know I can’t see myself doing something on a statewide level, being a lobbyist or doing public policy here. Knowing me, I’ll have to go to Washington and implement my ideas. . . . I just know I want to do a lot.”
There’s encouraging more public policy involvement to be done, especially among young people, and getting folks to understand the power of the vote. There’s the blending of her backgrounds in business and politics and looking for solutions that transcend race or party or tribe or generation. And, always, there’s learning so much, so many issues, so many horizons to explore.
“Politics is so huge and so big now,” Jasmaine Parker says. “And we can make a difference now.”
You heard it here first.
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