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Scioto graduate brings civic engagement to Harvard

This story was originally published by CityScene Columbus.

Many high school graduates have lofty goals for their next steps, but for those who know Will Smialek, it was no surprise he set his eyes on Capitol Hill.

The recent Dublin Scioto graduate has been active in local civics for years and has fought to create opportunities for others as well.

Over the years his accolades have been acknowledged in many ways, including being named the recipient of the Coca-Cola Scholars Foundation, a scholarship program for exceptional high school seniors.

Though Smialek will be leaving Dublin for Cambridge, Massachusetts to attend Harvard University this fall, his work and advocacy will leave a lasting impact on the students who follow.

For years Smialek has striven for civic action and intergenerational dialogue which can be seen through his involvement in several organizations including the Dublin City Schools Board of Education.

During his time in Dublin City Schools, Smialek felt the need for stronger student representation in the district. He took matters into his own hands.

“I walked up to my superintendent and asked if we could have a student on the board of education and he was like, ‘Yeah, sure why not? You can present in three weeks to the board of education and the cabinet and the public, just get a few friends to help you,’ and so, that’s exactly what I did,” he says.

Just four months after speaking with Superintendent John Marschhausen, he sat in front of the board of education with three other friends as the first student representatives to the board. The desire to share students’ perspectives came from a feeling of disconnect between discourse at the administrative level and what students really need.

“This is mainly stemming from a lack of student perspective heard at these meetings,” Smialek says. “Sure, there are a lot of concerns about different topics like the critical race theory, and banning certain books, but when you're on the ground in high school the priorities are mental health and ensuring that student well-being is a priority for the district.”

He looks at this experience as a successful way of injecting more of a student's voice into conversations and debates happening at a higher-level regarding things such as mental health and overall wellbeing.

He also showed his commitment to government by serving as the Student Civic Engagement Council Chairperson (SCECC) for the League of Women Voters of Metropolitan Columbus (LWVMC).

“I was really interested in the advocacy work that the league had been doing, specifically regarding its work around redistricting within the state and to continue creating intergenerational dialogue because we don’t have that opportunity a lot,” Smialek says.

Assembling a team of students representing five different high schools around central Ohio, Smialek assisted in introducing a youthful perspective to the league.

“We have so few groups in our country that are actually nonpartisan and it is really neat to see the work that is actively being done to maintain the nonpartisanship of the league, and I feel it was really important for my friends and kids in my generation to see that this is still possible in our hyper-partisan world,” Smialek says.

Having a male student involved in the league is not common but adds an important perspective, explains LWVMC and SCEC Advisor Ann Bohman.

“Just the mere fact that we had students involved and even a male student was really important to a lot of people,” Bohman says. “His presence alone encouraged others to show interest in wanting to be involved in democracy.”

Although Smialek’s impact has been felt across the board, he has much simpler plans for himself when it comes to educational goals.

“(I) push myself as hard as I can and take the most challenging class as possible,” Smialek says.

Dublin Scioto teacher John Witt has known Smialek since the sixth grade through various organizations like Interact Club, where Smialek and his twin brother, Grant, were both leaders.

“The first time I had the opportunity to meet him was the result of him leading a community service group in order to try to put together shoes for children in Africa,” says Witt. “Yes, Will is a leader; yes, he is a hard worker; yes, he has earned everything he has been given, but along the way, the number of people he has uplifted and had a positive impact on, I hope that does not get overlooked, because it is quite simply amazing.”