Orchard Student Goes From Mock Court to Real-Life Political Activism for 2020 and Beyond

The Orchard School’s mission is to develop and educate the whole child. Part of that philosophy is to foster character development, independent critical thinking, and a commitment to service and civic responsibility. So it's no surprise that Orchard students want to be involved during election seasons.
Elise O’Neill ’21 stands out from even those eager students.
Leading up to the general elections last year, Elise carved time out of her demanding sports commitments and busy school schedule (where she earns straight As) to find multiple ways to make an impact. Through The Civics Center, a youth civic engagement organization, she wrote 50 encouraging postcards to young voters in Ohio because “they’re an important swing state.” At the Broad Ripple Farmers Market, she worked alongside two of her best friends Meredith and Audrey to educate and register passersby. In total, these three helped register nearly 100 people to vote at their Indiana Citizen booth. And as November 4 inched closer, Elise phone-banked for a congressional candidate.
That’s a lot to handle for any 14-year-old, but Elise feels this is a crucial time for students her age—students who will be voters in the 2024 election. “Over the years, Orchard has given me confidence and taught me that my voice matters,” she said. “Well, I think there are a lot of important issues not being dealt with right now, such as a concern for our environment, and this is a way for me to make a difference.”
Elise believes her passion for politics started in fifth grade during the mock Supreme Court hearings that Orchard students run in social studies class. “I remember being a lawyer during this project, and I had to write and present real arguments for the things I believe in,” she said. Students don’t just present to their peers, either; they confidently stand in front of a packed house full of family members and other faculty and staff. Elise won’t forget this life-altering experience. “Mrs. (Teressa) Hart’s social studies class really opened my eyes to everything going on in the world.”

Top: Audrey '21, Elise '21, and Meredith '21 participate during mock Supreme Court hearing in fifth grade. Bottom: Now eighth-graders, the girls encouraged young voters to go to the polls.

For the past 11 years, Orchard has nurtured and prepared Elise with the tools she needed to become an active citizen rooted in justice, integrity, and compassion—something she hopes to continue in high school at Brebeuf Jesuit Preparatory School.
As for life after high school, Elise dreams of working on a campaign and eventually leading one. “The government is really important and has a real impact on people's lives,” she said. “So if I can get there and help all of the people who feel like they have no representation, then I want to do that.”

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