Fifth-grader Grace Szostak at Lincoln Elementary School in Caldwell, New Jersey, has no interest in being president someday. Why? “Gray hair,” she said with a laugh. And too much stress.
Ryan Ostrowski also has absolutely no desire to ever seek the highest office in the land. “If you say one bad thing, it will just go over the Internet, newspapers and everything, and that could change your whole reputation,” the fifth-grader told me.
“I would not want to be president, because I would not want that to happen to me,” agreed Toniann Garruto, a fourth-grader.
OK, but what if we sweetened the prize? I suggested that to the fourth- and fifth-graders at this elementary school, whom I interviewed in March about the presidential campaign and then visited again as the race neared its end. What if we gave them $1 million, but in order to get the money, they had to become president first? Would they take the deal?
“I would do it, but they’d have to give me the money at the same time, because it might be a scam,” said a skeptical Christopher DePrenda, a fourth-grader.
Tyler Schlegel, also in the fourth grade, wouldn’t accept it. “You could … go on ‘American Ninja Warrior’ and win. You get a million dollars from that,” he said.
How times have changed from when I was a kid and when being president seemed like the coolest job on the planet. Not so anymore.
“I think we all remember from our childhood, everybody wanted to be president of the US. I mean, it was a way to influence the world and put yourself in the limelight and to be challenged, but the way this election is turning out, we wondered if we were perhaps giving kids the idea that being president is a little bit of a thankless job,” said Christine French Cully, editor-in-chief of Highlights for Children Inc.
So Cully and her colleagues decided to ask children across the country whether they were interested in running for president someday. In a survey of 2,000 kids ages 6 to 12, 65% said they don’t want to run for president when they grow up, versus 35% who said they would be interested in becoming the leader of the free world.
“I think it tells us for sure that kids are listening and observing and picking up the negativity they’ve heard in this election cycle,” said Cully.
After watching the final presidential debate, Teagan Quinn, a fifth-grader, said she thought to herself, “Oh, wow, this is how they speak to each other. I didn’t know they spoke this nasty.”
‘Too much pressure’
Sean Wescott, another fifth-grader, said he’s not one of those people who can get mad at people and “mudsling,” so he’ll stick with acting aspirations, not presidential ones. “It would be kind of stressful for me,” he said, when there are always people who don’t like you. “I don’t think that would be good.”
But Sean’s brother Casey definitely wants to run for president and is surprised so many kids told the Highlights survey they don’t want any part of the Oval Office.
“I know every kid in America isn’t the same, but to me, being president sounds amazing,” Casey, a fifth-grader, said. “I mean, you’re representing America. You’re being the head. … You can also live a pretty good life if you live in the White House for four years or eight.”
Casey’s friend Matthew Lista, also a fifth-grader, is interested in being Casey’s No. 2, his vice president. Why not run for the top of the ticket? “Too much pressure. There’s a lot of pressure on you,” he said.
Lance Jenkins, another fifth-grader, completely agreed. “I think it might be too much pressure, because I’m not really great under pressure,” he said.
Highlights’ Cully said that 41% of the kids surveyed said the pressure and the stress of the job are the reasons why they have no interest in becoming president.
She said the findings should be a wake-up call for parents and educators. “I think it’s important for us to … talk about the office and honor the office and remind kids that public service is an honorable profession and a great thing to do,” Cully said. “Give kids lots of opportunities to think about the common good and not just our own individual needs.”
Aspirations other than the presidency
What the findings also show, Cully said, is that children today have other career aspirations beyond the presidency, and we heard that from the students at Lincoln Elementary.
Ava Siedler, a fifth-grader, wants to be a professional figure skater and win a gold medal at the Olympics.
Peter Mooney, a fourth-grader, wants to be an all-star in baseball or lacrosse.
Fiona Laddey, another fourth-grader, wants to be so many things that she can’t settle on one profession: artist, chef, fashion designer, model, Olympic swimmer, pilot, architect, singer. “I really want to be someone famous, because I like being in the spotlight.”
Tyler Schlegel wants to be a scientist and find cures for illnesses, “because my grandpa died of lung cancer.”
Christopher DePrenda wants to be a firefighter. “I just like helping people,” he said.
Alexis Dias, a fourth-grader, wants to be a veterinarian because she loves animals. When I asked whether she might also want to be president, she said she would. “If other people get (to be) president, you don’t know what they could do, and I know if I were president, I would make the world a better place.”
And, if Hillary Clinton becomes the first female president, would it make her want to be president even more?
“Yes, because it can show me that I actually have a chance at becoming president, (because) there has been a lady president,” she said.