Ashish A. Bagal and Alana Murray moved through a swirl of students at the Maryland Association of Student Councils convention last weekend, shaking hands and passing out literature like veteran politicians.

But neither Ashish, 17, a Hammond High School junior, nor Alana, 15, a Mount Hebron High sophomore, won the offices they sought in thestatewide student government organization. MASC conducted its annualconvention at Turf Valley Country Club last weekend, with the HowardCounty Association of Student Councils as host.

Ashish and Baltimore City candidate Anja Johnson were defeated for the presidency by Anne Arundel County candidate Jodi Harmon, a student at South River High School. Alana lost the vice presidency to Oyauma Garrison, a student at Dunbar High School in Baltimore City.

Richard Wright, adviser to the Howard County Association of Student Councils, saw a silver lining in the election results: "I keep telling the kids, 'Do it for the experience.' If you happen to win, that's fine, too. But just making a speech in front of 800 people and trying to sell yourself is a good experience."

The two local candidates took different campaign approaches. Alana, MASC assistant parliamentarian this school year, decided to run for vice president three months ago and immediately began organizing her campaign.

She spent two weeks crafting her campaign speech, appointed a campaign manager and got her twin sister Kali to serve as floor manager. She had fliers and buttons to hand out, purchased with a $75 campaign grant from HCASC.

"The speech is the most crucial thing, because the convention is shortened (from three days to two this year), and there's no time to campaign," Alana said.

Alana got involved in student government as a member of the Montgomery County Junior Council, that county's student government association for middle school students. When the familymoved to Howard County and she became a freshman at Mount Hebron, she continued her interest. She was legislative trainer for a legislative conference in Baltimore this year and attended the annual summer Maryland Leadership Workshop for students.

Jamie Kendrick, a HowardHigh School sophomore and president of the school's Student Government Association, gave Alana a vote of confidence.

"I met her at theMaryland Leadership Workshop. She didn't seem too self-confident at first, but by the time we left, she was one of the most self-confident people. She knew everyone," Jamie said.

Ashish, in contrast, decided to seek the presidency just two weeks before the election. He ran a much more casual campaign, with no formal structure. The fliers he had run off were supplemented with name-tag stickers on which his supporters wrote slogans such as, "Ashish KNOWS parliamentary procedure" and "Vote for Ashish. He's nice to small animals."

Ashish, vicepresident of HCASC this school year and president of his freshman and sophomore class councils, relied on Howard delegates to campaign for him.

The Hammond junior said he decided to run because, "Howard County has always been suppressed in MASC, and this year we had a bigdelegation, and I thought I could win."

In the absence of issues,the campaign came down to candidates' experience and qualifications and, in Alana's post-election assessment, bloc voting.

"Baltimore City, they bloc-voted against me," she said, attributing her loss to the city delegation's enlistment of Prince George's County delegates to support Oyauma. She said she is undeterred by her loss, because the convention experience was "awesome."

In addition to the student election, the convention included career seminars, legislation -- thestudents agreed to ask the Maryland State Board of Education to exempt seniors with A averages from final exams -- training in relationship skills, guest speakers and a dinner dance.

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