BY KELLY BROWN
The incoming Harvard Law School 1L class had a worldwide audience this summer, with two of its members appearing at the major political conventions this past summer. First-year student Michael Negron, 24, delivered remarks at the Democratic National Convention in July, and Erika Harold appeared at the Republican National Convention in August. Harold’s interview will appear in the next edition of the Record.
Originally from Chicago, Negron graduated from Georgetown University in 2001 and served as a naval officer for three years before enrolling as a 1L here at HLS. His message at the convention was grounded in the disillusionment of young people with politics and the importance of re-engaging youth in political discourse
Negron said he visited the Democratic National Convention website in late May looking for a way to go to the convention, and it was there that he stumbled upon an advertisement for the MTV/DNC “Speak Out for the Future” contest. The deadline was just days away, but Negron managed to submit his essay in time to be considered with the 1,000 other applications.
A review committee speared by the grassroots organization 2020 Democrats whittled the group of submissions down to ten, and visitors to the organization’s website selected Negron’s speech as their favorite. In late July, Negron was flown up to Boston for a week of television interviews, schmoozing, and Convention business.
“I wasn’t really excited until after I spoke, and then I was like, ‘wow, I spoke at the Democratic National Convention,'” Negron said.
He arrived in Boston on Sunday, July 25, and partied at the Avalon in Boston as John Kerry threw out the opening pitch at the Red Sox game. The Democratic nominee’s cousin, Kerry Fulmer, introduced him to prominent party figures, including Howard Dean, but it was early to bed for the young Democrat, who had to be up at 5 a.m. for the next day’s activities.
Monday morning commenced with shirt-ironing and a breakfast with delegates from Tennessee, where Negron lived while studying for his Master’s degree in history. There he hobnobbed with the likes of Congressman Harold Ford, Jr., of whom Negron spoke very highly. “I had been a big fan of his for a while. That was definitely my favorite encounter of the Convention.”
After a brief speech before the delegation, it was back to interviewing. Negron did a “reality TV” segment for MTV, which he said consisted of repeated takes and a lot less “reality” than one might expect. “They would sometimes tell me exactly how to say something. That was the most awkward part, having to constantly speak to the camera.”
Did he ever run out of things to say to those cameras? “Never,” the 1L said with a laugh.
More interviews followed at Boston’s Fleet Center, and then it was off to the backstage rehearsal, which took place in a small room with a podium and teleprompter. Dick Gephardt watched as Negron practiced, and applauded the junior speaker before taking the podium himself to rehearse his own speech, slated for later in the week.
An hour before he was to speak, Negron was cornered by makeup artists. “They put some waxy stuff on my lips, and covered me in a tremendous, ridiculous amount of makeup, so much that I was afraid to smile or move my lips at all,” he recalled.
Ten minutes after 7 p.m. on July 26, after a nerve-wracking wait behind the podiums, it was finally time for Negron to address the crowd. Producers had given him advice about how to position himself, how to moveÑor refrain from movingÑhis appendages, and how to retain poise.
“I broke pretty much all of the rules,” Negron admitted. “Once I saw the others speak, I just did what I wanted. I spoke to the audience, rather than just the TV cameras, as I had been advised. And it went fine.”
Was he petrified giving such a huge speech in such a huge venue on such a huge occasion? “Before hand, I was nervous, I was jumping around,” Negron said. “But [once I got up to the podium,] all I could see were lights and a couple of dark faces, so I wasn’t really nervous. It all melted away when I was speaking.”
His speech juxtaposed the high rate of volunteer activity among 18- to 24-year-olds in areas outside politics and the low voter turnout among this age group. Negron denounced the view that young people are generally apathetic, and asserted that youth have simply become increasingly disillusioned with a political process in which they see no role for themselves.
“Both parties rely too much on gimmicks to get the youth vote, instead of being more specific. They should have talked [earlier] about Iraq and the draft and used that as a way of reaching young people,” Negron said, adding that his comments on Iraq were “watered down” by editors, and that his reference to the draft was removed entirely. “The campaign was divided then, and they hadn’t decided how to talk about [these issues].”
Negron said he is still thrilled at having had the opportunity to be an integral part of the convention, but he does question the effect of his words.
“I don’t know how much of an impact on youth this sort of thing had,” he said. “I received a lot of good feedback but that may have been from those who were true believers already. Still, polls continue to show that, not only are young people much more interested in this election than the previous one, but they are still favoring Kerry to the president.”