On Wednesday morning, a group of Watertown High School students got to have their questions answered by someone who could become the Commander in Chief and Leader of the Free World.
The WHS students took time away from their normal lessons to hear from presidential hopeful Mayor Wayne Messam. The Florida Democrat stopped by between campaigning in New Hampshire and an interview with a Boston Public Radio station.
Messam shared his story of how he went from humble beginnings to being a football player at Florida State University, then started his own environmentally conscious construction company, become mayor of Mirmar, Fla., and now is running for the highest office in the land.
Messam kicked off his campaign on March 30, and joined a crowded field of Democrats, 25 total including 23 Democrats as of May 23. One of three mayors running for President, Messam said that be believes he and his fellow mayors bring a different perspective to the race.
“We are not from Washington, we are closest to the people, we can’t just shut down government, we have to balance the budget and operate in a non-partisan way,” Messam said.
While Mayor Pete Butigieg has been getting the most attention of the mayors running for President, Messam note he got a town hall meeting on national television. He, too, hopes to have one of those so that people can hear his message.
He encouraged the students to set goals and strive for them, and said they should prepare for a very different future than today. While many people are working as Uber or Lyft drivers today, for instance, self-driving vehicles may replace them, but he said there will still be jobs — just different ones.
“You shouldn’t be afraid. You should be prepared for the next generation,” Messam said. “You will be creating the next disruptive market.”
He suggested that students think of an inconvenience in their lives, find a way to eliminate it and turn that into a way to make a living.
The WHS students got to ask Messam about his views on various subjects.
When asked about the increase in anti-abortion laws being created in a variety of states, he said he believed they were trying to test the legal precedent of the Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision. He added: “Personally, I trust women and their family to make the best decision for reproductive health.”
He was also asked about whether the United States should cut green house gasses. Messam said he disagreed with the President Trump’s decision to withdraw the U.S. from the Paris Climate Agreement.
Messam said he opposed the privatization of prisons, when questioned about the subject. He said that private prisons are ultimately beholden to their shareholders, or corporate owners, and they support laws trying to put more people in prison. He added that the U.S. has the more incarcerated people than any nation, and they are disproportionately people of color.
Being able to speak to an actual presidential candidate was exciting for WHS senior Honor Petrie, who attended with her civics class.
“It’s really interesting because I am going to be a political science major starting next year,” said Petrie, who is going to Tulane University. “I am thinking of potentially running for public office, whether it is president or mayor or something different.”
Petrie asked Messam about abortion rights. A few weeks ago she attended an event where another presidential candidate, John Delaney of Maryland, where she asked him about gun control. She said there were aspects of both candidates that interested her.
Both Messam and Delaney were invited to WHS by John Vitti, an editor in the Boston Globe sports department and English teacher at WHS, who leads the town’s five online school newspapers. The secret, he said, is just asking.
He said the students on the newspaper will learn a lot more during the brief visits from the Presidential candidates than they would sitting a class.
“They are talking with people who are making news and making history,” Vitti said.
Principal Shirley Lundberg was impressed with the WHS students.
“I think the questions they gave very thoughtful,” Lundberg said. “I think they were authentic and are asking questions about things that are important to them.”
Messam said he enjoys meeting high school students.
“They inspire me — seeing the promise of the future and envisioning the world they will live in,” Messam said.