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The Student-Run Newspaper of Townsend Harris High School at Queens College

The Classic

The Student-Run Newspaper of Townsend Harris High School at Queens College

The Classic

Two presidents and two visions: newly elected freshman-sophomore co-presidents talk plans for their shared time in office

Jordana+and+Aki+speaking+during+the+Student+Union+debate.
Bella Chen
Jordana and Aki speaking during the Student Union debate.
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In the Student Union, the freshman-sophomore class president has always represented students from two grades. Starting this fall, the position will not only represent two grades — it will be held by two people as well.  

In May, rising sophomores Aki Benjamin and Jordana Lo were elected as freshman-sophomore co-presidents. 

According to Senior Adviser Blayne Gelbman, who helps run the Student Union with Coordinator of Student Activities Jaime Baranoff, he and Ms. Baranoff decided to have co-presidents because they’ve seen how much work the job can involve.

“Communication is really important,” Mr. Gelbman said. The role involves keeping all students in two grades informed about key school expectations and events, but, he said, it has the added responsibility of helping freshmen get used to being Harrisites.

According to the SU Election packet, when the job was still for one person, it required that the freshman-sophomore president attend all necessary meetings, serve as a representative on the SU Executive Board, run meetings for freshman/sophomore grade leaders, report on freshman/sophomore issues and activities at Consultative Council meetings with the school administration, and communicate  all relevant information to both grades using social media or other methods.

How exactly the co-presidents will divide up these responsibilities remains an open question, according to Mr. Gelbman. “We don’t know what that’s going to look like, [but] we’re looking forward to seeing how Aki and Jordana develop their ways,” he said.

Outgoing Freshman-Sophomore Class President Shaw Williams said that he agreed with the decision to make co-presidents for next year. “I myself can say that managing not only one but two classes is no easy task. With the introduction of co-presidents, the responsibilities of Freshmen-Sophomore Class President can be split in two, allowing for both grades to have even more amazing opportunities in the future.

In speaking to The Classic in separate interviews, Aki and Jordana offered a window into how they will “develop their ways” — and demonstrated a number of ways that the two approach their shared job from different perspectives and with different goals. 

Jordana said she plans to encourage extracurricular involvement, enhance academic support, and advocate for student interests. Aki, on the other hand, said that he wants to see change in how the school treats underclassmen.

“This past year, it seems like there has been a lack of attention paid to the classes of 2026 and 2027,” Aki said. After observing “a significant disconnect from the knowledge of the SU and the knowledge of most students [about key things happening in the school],” he said he hopes to change that, including by making himself available to keep students as informed about what is going on in the school as SU members are.

In addition, Aki said that he hopes to work with school personnel and outside nonprofit organizations “to make community service requirements clearer and more attainable for students.” He also said he hopes to see the SU get more political. 

“I hope to have the SU take an active position in fighting for our rights as students outside the school,” Aki said, “including putting pressure on our elected officials to support school funding.”

How the co-presidents said they will approach achieving their different goals was also distinct. 

Jordana said she expects there to be challenges next year and that she’s ready for them: “I plan to address these challenges by prioritizing tasks, delegating and maintaining communication, and being solution oriented.” 

Aki brought up the challenges of making “systemic change.” 

“It may be hard to make a lot of systemic changes as an underclassman on the SU,” he said. “However, I will do my best to work with my co-President and the SU President and Vice President to get the events and changes that the Classes of 2027 and 2028 deserve.” 

In their respective interviews, the two also emphasized different strengths and weaknesses that they bring to the table.

Jordana said her strength is “holding empathy for [her] peers” while needing to work on “balance.” 

Aki described his organizational abilities. 

“My strengths lie a lot in organization and leadership,” he said. “Throughout this past year, I have done most of the scheduling of shifts and money management in the grade leaders. I also have run or co-run most of the freshmen grade leaders meetings and training this past year, and coordinated groups of people. I was also a point person assisting at each event, dealing with any issues that came up in real time.” 

He said, however, that he’s not very good at the “artsy public relations” side of the SU, and that he’s “a bit of a workaholic” who gets a lot done but burns out quickly.

In September, Aki and Jordana will get to work as co-presidents, begin to figure out how to define this new position as a job for two, and get started bringing both of their visions to life.

Additional reporting by Kaylie Zhou

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