Toni Turilli attends Saugus High School but for four hours last Friday, she donned the mantle of mock authority as a Student Government Day participant serving as Board of Selectmen chairwoman.
Turilli proved to be a natural with the gavel and in the fine tradition of Saugus selectmen, did not mince words when it came to stating her opinion. With the real selectmen serving as an audience, Turilli and fellow town-leaders-for-a-day dealt with pretend parade scheduling problems and the pros and cons of fixing up town playgrounds.
Taking aim at real-life Selectman Jeff Cicolini, who was cast in the role of someone objecting to parade schedules, Turilli tartly informed Cicolini that the world doesn’t revolve around his sleep schedule.
Student Government Day may sound like an annual event giving smart kids a forum for showing off and offering public officials an amusing and interesting break from business as usual. But Turilli and her peers embraced the day with an enthusiasm and seriousness that is a credit to the town and to democracy.
Turilli demonstrated she could teach adult career politicians a thing or two about democracy when she observed, “I like politics because I like how nothing is ever one-sided.” That statement goes as far as any eloquent speech in summing up public debate in a free society.
Fellow Student Government Day participant Nick Melillo said he likes politics because of the opportunities it presents to hear opinions and possibly change viewpoints.
It’s refreshing and heartening to know that, contrary to popular opinion, young people are not apathetic drones who have been lulled into a daze by social media. Turilli, Melillo and their Saugus peers are teenagers who provided ample evidence last week that they are curious and interested in the way government works and, by the way, they wouldn’t mind helping to improve it.
Saugus has a long history of elected officials who say what they think even if their frank views tend to get them in trouble. For a town on the smaller side, Saugus is a rough-and-tumble place, politically-speaking where residents aren’t afraid to launch petition drives to instigate change and where political incumbents aren’t afraid to dig in and fight it out when it comes to their beliefs.
Turilli, Melillo and fellow Student Government Day participants represent the future of government in Saugus because chances are good their interest in public service will intensify and lead them into public life.
Their remarks suggest they view public life in the same way the Greeks and pre-Imperial Romans viewed it: as a robust forum for views and complicated issues to get hashed out.
Saugus has a lot going for it in terms of natural resources and talented people and the list got longer thanks to Saugus High School students who aren’t afraid to imagine themselves as leaders.