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School board student rep works to inspire peers

I prefer to be around adults and work with adults, said Mejia, who didnt grow up around many kids, but adores her 10-year-old brother who she says is actually the coolest.Her voice isn’t booming. It’s not even forceful. It’s actually soft and easygoing.

So when Lilly Mejia says she has a strong voice, what she means is: I’m not a pushover.

“My parents always approached everything as a conversation,” she said. “They were always like, ‘Let’s debate politics and social issues, let’s share our opinions and views.’”

Mejia brings what she’s learned at home out into the world, where giving people a voice — and raising her own — is her personal credo. That includes everything from debating music with her boyfriend (she listens to more pop than she’d like to admit but is still loyal to good jazz, Frank Sinatra and The Beatles) to representing her fellow Forest Grove High School students on the Forest Grove School Board.

Mejia was sworn into her position as student representative in September and will serve until June.

“It’s important to have a kid there and I’m glad I can do it. Education is super important to me,” said Mejia, 17.

Mejia hopes being on the board will help her change her high school’s culture.

“Everyone wants to get out of Forest Grove, so they don’t pay attention while we’re here. They have this attitude that nothing matters. But it does — it matters how you feel about your high school experience,” she said. “So many people could ‘be that change they want to see’ even in our small town, but there’s this feeling of ‘Let someone else do it.’

“I want to let people know ‘You can do great things,’” she said.

Mejia cites one student-founded club she’s part of as an example — the Youth Ending Slavery Club, which recruits young people to combat modern slavery, such as sex trafficking, with fundraisers and awareness walks.

To spread her message of ‘being the change,’ Mejia tries to connect with many different groups.

She’s friends with good students, with kids in her leadership class, with her fellow choir singers, with people in the band. “I think your attitude can spread. It’s infectious.”

By intermingling with all the high school cliques, Mejia also wants to see what’s most important to everybody so her reports to the school board will represent the entire student body.

“She is an outstanding young lady who keeps us connected with the accomplishments, needs, thoughts and dreams of our next generation,” said FGSD board member Fred Marble.

“She’s a really thoughtful person and she’s able to think about the community as a whole, not just her immediate group of friends,” said her mom, Rachelle (Vandecoevering) Mejia, who grew up in Verboort. “I feel like the school board was the next step for her [after junior class president] where she could have input and be a voice for other high school students.” NEWS-TIMES PHOTOS: CHASE ALLGOOD - Lilly Mejia sat at her third school board meeting Monday night as the districts student representative.

Mejia tries to apply her inclusive attitude not just to broad school or social issues, but to everyday interactions, where she tries to meet meanness with kindness — even when she’s talking about people, not to them.

The day after the Umpqua Community College shooting, for example, a Forest Grove High School student falsely reported she had seen another student carrying a gun, which sent the school into lockdown. Mejia was so shaken she went home to calm down after the crisis ended.

But when asked later that day about the student who’d made the false accusation, the still-shaken Mejia said simply that the girl “must not have been in a good place.”

“I like to be nice to everyone. I really don’t like being mean,” she said.

There are plenty of signs that Mejia is a normal teenager, such as her sparkly nail polish and her giddy excitement for the prom. But her approach to her school board position is level-headed and grown-up.

“I don’t have experience running a school but as a student I know how I’d like my classroom to be run and the systems that would be most effective,” Mejia said. “Sometimes it takes a child to say, ‘Yes, I’m a student but this is what’s going to work best for me.’”

Mejia sat quietly during the school year’s first two board meetings. The formality of the agenda took her by surprise, she said. She had never been to a meeting before last month.

And while she describes herself as outspoken, she wasn’t quite ready to butt in when administrators discussed budgets and enrollment numbers or while members of the public commented on special education student safety.  

But speaking in front of the board isn’t overwhelmingly intimidating for Mejia. And while she’s not a voting member, she is tasked with reporting the student body viewpoint to board members. “I think adults respond when you can say what’s on your mind in a way that’s constructive but not snotty,” said Mejia.

Mejia is busy between school, choir, baby-sitting gigs, guitar lessons, family meals with grandparents, her photography hobby, meditating and the book club she started with her friends, but Chris Mejia isn’t surprised his daughter would volunteer to sacrifice every other Monday night during her busy senior year.

“She’s really knowledgeable about what’s going on at school and we’re really proud of her,” said Chris Mejia, a Banks High School grad who, like his daughter, was junior class president and, later, school board representative.

“I think my position is a great platform for making change,” Mejia said. “I like to get things done, but I really like to get them done for other people.”