Prefect pressure


Illustration by Sophia Evans

A stressed Head Prefect gives a speech while worried about other personal school commitments.

Jade Harris and Hannah Shahidi

Head Prefect Simon Lee ’23 was on edge. With thousands of his peers’ eyes fixated on him, he  was about to give the speech that would determine his long-held dream of becoming Head Prefect. After giving his speech, Lee heard the cheers of his classmates as he walked away from the podium. Days later, when Lee learned that he was elected as Head Prefect, he said he was both overjoyed and anxious to assume this position. 

“I was super nervous about it,” Lee said. “I guess it was exciting because it was something I had wanted for a while, but also, election season for people who run can be super stressful, and it places a lot of strain on relationships. While I’m lucky enough that it didn’t do that to any of my friendships, there was also kind of a worry that getting this job would kind of lead to compromising some of the relationships that I cared about.”

Two rounds of Head Prefect elections take place every spring. After hearing speeches from candidates in the preliminary round, the junior class votes on four students to advance to a second round, where sophomores and juniors vote on two Head Prefects.  Lee said he’s worried for candidates who are running for the position.

“I’m going to be real, election season is really rough,” Lee said. “And I worry for the Junior Prefects this year and anyone else who’s running. Ultimately, what I always think to reassure myself, and I think a lot of other people do this is, [is that] the fact that people are stressed about it is ultimately a manifestation of the fact that they care about Prefect Council.”

Prefect Council comprises of  four Prefects from each grade and two additional Head Prefects that oversee the group, all of whom are elected by the student body . Junior Prefect Nyla Shelton ’24, who has been elected Prefect for the past two years, said she feels anxious during elections because she cares a lot about the positions she runs for.

“I’m right in the midst of election season, so that is definitely a big source of stress,” Shelton said. “If I’m completely honest, I think elections, obviously, are inherently stressful, just given the fact that you are speaking for a lot of people. And you do want to put your best foot forward for a position that you really care about, just like with any leadership position that you’re really wanting.

Shelton said she spends significant amounts of her time writing her candidate statements and preparing for other aspects of the election.

“I think I spent at least 10 hours just on all my candidate statements,” Shelton said. “Probably a total [of] 15 hours. It’ll be more by the time that elections actually happen. I guess that includes thinking about it. I wouldn’t say I was on my Google Doc for 15 hours, obviously. But I’ve definitely spent a while thinking about it and thinking about ideas.”

Prefect Council is tasked with organizing annual school events such as Homecoming and Prom, but they also set up coffeehouses, food trucks, discount partners and tournaments throughout the year, according to Sophomore Prefect Eric Lee ’23. In addition, Prefect Council  also serves as a communication line between the administration and student body, advocating for new initiatives and policy change.

Shelton said she is anxious when Prefect Council projects do not work out as planned because the Council is meant to help the student body.

“I can get stressed if an initiative isn’t working out the way I’d hoped or an event is moving slowly or vendors are not getting back to me,” Shelton said. “Especially because I really take to heart  the feedback that we get about these events, and if we’re not carrying out the council’s tasks in ways that make the students’ lives better or improve the wellness of the student body, it affects me a lot negatively, to be honest.” 

Head Prefect Yoshi Kimura ’23 said she cares a lot about her role on Prefect Council, and it has forced her to develop methods to deal with stress surrounding Prefect Council elections.

“I can’t control what somebody thinks, and I don’t know if I’m what’s best for the student body,” Kimura said. “But I should believe in the system that’s been created, I should believe in the support of the people who have supported me thus far. And so reducing that stress is really important during [elections]. That being said, I don’t think I ate for a week. You know, I was sleep deprived, I was hungry. But at the end of the day, there’s nothing but love from everyone in the community, even the people you run against.”

Former Head Prefect Quincey Dern ’22 said she spent several hours every day working on Prefect Council initiatives.

“I spent so much time on Prefect Council, and it’s not an exaggeration,” Dern said. “Truly, I was working on something Prefect Council related every single day, including the weekends. I remember specifically, over quarantine, when we were organizing the days for kids to be brought back into social distance groups, we were trying to figure out how we should put groups together, and I remember doing that on the phone with my fellow prefects until at least 3 AM.”

Kimura said there is a significant time commitment to being on Prefect Council, but it’s enjoyable because of her passion and dedication to being Head Prefect.

“You know, [Lee will] call me at 12:30 at night with this idea, and I’ll be like, alright,” Kimura said. “It’s a little time here and there. But, when you’re really passionate about the things you’re putting on, it doesn’t feel like work or too much of a commitment to you know, keep talking about it. But, it is a pretty hefty amount of time,” Kimura said.

Head of School Rick Commons said Prefect Council works closely with the administration to work on issues that students face.   Commons said he finds the personal and professional connections valuable.

“I think of the Head Prefects as an important source of representative student government where I can understand from people who have been elected by the student body, how the student body is likely to react to a decision, or what the student body might like to see,” Commons said. “And so I enjoy my relationship with, for instance, [Lee] and [Kimura]. I have a great relationship with both of them and enjoy casual conversations, but will often ask them for their opinions, and they will often come to me with ideas. The whole Prefect Council will come to me with ideas, and it’s a part of my job that I love.”

Former Head Prefect Jonathan Cosgrove ’21 said he thinks fondly of his time on Prefect Council during his time at the school. Cosgrove said he was able to meet many of his classmates and become more social through planning events for Prefect Council.

“[Prefect Council] forced me to become a more social and extroverted person,” Cosgrove said. “To make sure that I was always talking to everyone and getting to know everyone in my grade. And I really love being a prefect because by the end of Harvard-Westlake, I really knew every kid in my grade and every student pretty well, and I think that’s a really special thing that I gained—being able to know all 285 kids that were in my grade and being able to know them personally.”

Celeste* said she doesn’t see any results from work that Prefect Council does.

“I’ve never thought of running because it just feels like more about party planning than just actually making change on campus,” Celeste said. “I feel like nothing drastic has changed the school since I’ve been here. It seems like [Prefect Council] sets themselves really low bars intentionally so that they can say they did something like bringing in a food truck. But I feel like more meaningful change would be like looking at  curriculum and homework policy and getting us more late starts. Everyone always talks about the golden age [of Prefect Council], I prefer [the] council when they were writing the honor code and setting up the honor board.”

Celeste said  people who run for Prefect Council have ulterior motives behind their interest in being elected. 

“I’ve heard from people that they have no legitimate interest in being Prefect,” Celeste said. “It’s just something their parents want them to do, or it’s just something they’re doing for [college applications].”

Andrea Cruz-Vasquez ’25 said she isn’t affected by Prefect Council and feels indifferent about the elections.

“I don’t care about Prefect Council, they don’t really do a lot in my life,” Cruz-Vasquez said. “They’re not very important. I just see their Instagram posts. That’s it. I don’t really pay attention to their speeches. I just vote on who’s funny.”