River Hill's Williams ready to start school board term

For any high school senior, the last year before graduation is a balancing act, not just between academics and extra-curriculars but between the present and the future.

For Tomi Williams, a rising senior at River Hill High School, the balancing act is a bit more complicated. In addition to sports, academics and college applications, he's also the newest member of the Howard County Board of Education.

Elected to his position as student member in May, Williams will take his oath of office and participate in his first board meeting Thursday, July 14 — a day when most students his age are enjoying carefree summer vacations.

"Getting in the swing of things is overwhelming," said Williams, 16, of Clarksville. "I'm excited, though. I hope I do well."

Williams started attending Howard schools in the sixth grade, when he and his family moved to Clarksville from Ann Arbor, Mich. As a new student at Clarksville Middle, his efforts to make friends became his top priority. But it came at a price.

"I didn't know anyone," he said. "Everyone had known each other since like, the first grade. I was clowning around and trying to make new friends when I had to focus on my work. I was kind of letting it slip."

Williams' parents took him out of Clarksville in the middle of seventh grade and opted instead for home-schooling. By the time he reached ninth grade, Williams was ready for River Hill High School.

"Those two years really helped me mature academically," he said.

Eager to run

It was also in the ninth grade that Williams' interest in the school board was first piqued when he saw the videos that student member candidates posted on the Howard County Association of Student Council's website.

"I thought what they were doing was really cool, and I started looking at the application, and I told myself, 'When I get to 11th grade, I'm going to run,'" he said. "It was a dream then, and you don't really think about whether you can accomplish it or not. But then 11th grade rolled around, and it was scary, because I almost missed the deadline to apply."

But Williams was blessed, he said, because everything "lined up perfectly," and he was one of the final candidates for the position. Both he and Russell Rollow, of Wilde Lake High School, campaigned throughout the spring, and Williams and his friends "tried to go to as many schools as possible."

"We went to high schools, middle schools, talking to different clubs and student councils," Williams said. "We listened to what students wanted, and what they wanted to improve on."

When he got the news he won, the first thing Williams did was call his parents, who were just as excited as he was.

"We knew that it had been a dream of his since he was in ninth grade," said Williams' mother, Oyinkan. "I remember him coming home one day after he had seen the elections at school and saying 'Mom, I'm going to do this someday.'

"When he told me he had won, I remember being so thrilled I couldn't sit down."

Oyinkan Williams said she prayed her son would be an inspiration to other students, and that he was determined to do his best.

Williams said he is focusing on improved and expanded communication between the board and all county students.

"It's been difficult for the students to really get involved, and a lot of them don't feel like their voices are heard," Williams said. "Since they're feeling they're being ignored now, they're kind of apathetic toward local government. The more I can reach out to my fellow students and try to get them more involved, the better it will be."

Eventually, Williams said, he wants to go into law, and he hoped to make other students see the importance of their local government, especially the local board of education.

"Everything the board is doing and every decision that the board is making is the stuff that's going to affect us directly," he said. "We're the ones who know what's going on in our schools, and we're the ones that know them the best. We're going to see the direct consequences and benefits of our participation."

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