Stefan Suazo is a sophomore Honors student and Stamps Scholar studying Political Economy at Tulane and is committed to being an active public servant beyond the Tulane campus in a serious and significant way. Not satisfied with only pursuing student governmental positions, he hopes to become the newest member of the Jefferson Parish School Board.
As a native of Jefferson Parish, an area just outside the city of New Orleans, Stefan completed his entire primary and secondary education in the Jefferson Parish school system, attending Ella C. Pittman Elementary School, Metairie Academy, and Patrick Taylor High School. In his final year, he was named Jefferson Parish High School Student of the Year, garnering parish-wide recognition for being the best representative of his peers. With a mother, a cousin, and an aunt who teach and with a sister in her sophomore year in a Jefferson Parish high school, Stefan has an especially vested interest in the success of the school system.
Stefan has always been interested in politics, education, and finding a way to make a difference in his community. While it is not common for 19-year-olds to run for elected office, he “realized that there was never going to be a time when someone says ‘okay, you’re old enough to make a difference.’” Stefan says he grew tired of waiting for someone to tell him that, and he decided that his experience, knowledge, and skills would allow him to make a meaningful difference right here and now.
If elected to the Jefferson Parish School Board, Stefan has two main goals in mind, both based on the principles of safety, success, and sustainability. These two goals are to raise teacher wages and to provide a truly safe learning environment for both students and faculty. Creating this safety involves not only providing visible and trained student resource officers, but also making sure that there are robust mental health care services in schools to provide support for all students. Beyond making sure schools are better suited to address those needs, he also hopes to modernize the technological and physical infrastructures of old, dilapidated schools.
As a full-time student and the son of a teacher and a car salesman, Stefan has had a unique campaigning experience. One of the most significant challenges has been fundraising, especially since he does not have a network of business contacts to match the other candidates. Even without the financial advantage, he has been going the extra mile, knocking on doors and listening to people who want to voice their concerns.
Overall, he has been surprised by how well people have responded to his candidacy. He believes that people are responsive and willing to elect a “kid” because the community wants a change and somebody who will be accountable to make that change. Through his meetings with concerned citizens and his availability to people in the parish, it is clear that he not only shares their concerns but is also willing to put in the work to bring about significant change.
Stefan is grateful for the ways in which this campaign experience will help him further his long-term goals. Whatever the outcome of this election, he hopes to one day hold elected office and to be in a position to effect direct change in a community. Beyond that, this experience has introduced him to a lot of people and shown him the unique political landscape in Louisiana. Stefan has learned the ins and outs of running a campaign, developing an understanding of how much goes on behind the scenes with communications, fundraising, volunteers, and more. He has also had the unique opportunity as a peer to offer his fellow students campaign jobs and titles that would otherwise be reserved for people with years of experience, with most of his team between the ages of 19 and 22. Stefan made these choices because he trusts members of his generation, and he is excited to bring a fresh perspective to the political process.
While he believes in the potential of the younger generation, it is not without its challenges. Stefan points out that “we don’t vote, which is really disgraceful.” A significant part of his campaign work involves reaching out to people already in college or exiting high school and emphasizing their right and duty as a citizen to vote. He believes that politicians everywhere need to make more of an effort to involve young people in all parts of the political process.
Stefan encourages people of all ages to “always stay involved.” He grew up, as many did, hearing that the two things you never talk about are politics and religion. Stefan believes that we have developed today’s toxic atmosphere surrounding politics because we have refused to have friendly, respectful conversations around the dinner table or in the classroom. His message is that “the next time you tell people there’s a time and place for politics, the time is now and the place is here.” Through having conversations and listening to concerns, Stefan hopes to keep citizens engaged and active within the political process. He hopes that, by being elected to Jefferson Parish School Board, he can channel this engagement into real, positive changes within the school system.