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Tori Selby looks forward to continuing her volunteer work as first student representative on Hernando School Board

Tori Selby, 17, a Springstead High senior, is the School Board’s first student representative.

WILL VRAGOVIC | Times

Tori Selby, 17, a Springstead High senior, is the School Board’s first student representative.

SPRING HILL — As a little girl, Tori Selby planned to be the first woman to serve as president of the United States.

"I used to tell my mom, 'You better vote for me,' " Selby recalls, laughing.

Selby might yet blaze that trail, but she has more immediate history to make: On Tuesday, she will join the Hernando County School Board as the district's first student representative.

The 17-year-old Springstead High School senior, whose name is short for Victoria, won a four-candidate race last week by a landslide margin that surprised even Selby and her supporters, despite the work they packed into a two-week campaign.

For Selby, the job is a culmination of the passions that drive her: civics, volunteerism and a desire to learn, teach and challenge the status quo.

"If somebody's complaining about something, or if I'm complaining about something, I'm not one to just sit there and let it happen," she said last week as she sat in the student lounge at Pasco-Hernando Community College's Spring Hill campus, where she takes a public speaking course. "I want to get out there and change it. I felt this position would let me do that, and let everybody else have a voice."

• • •

A native of Indiana, Selby moved to Tampa at the age of 8 when her father, Jon, got a job as a mechanic with Southwest Airlines. The family settled in Spring Hill in the middle of Selby's fourth-grade year. She attended Suncoast Elementary and was part of Challenger K-8 School of Science and Mathematics' first sixth-grade class.

The eldest of three girls, Selby's voracious appetite for books started at a young age. During her second-grade year, she tore through the first four Harry Potter novels. She turned pages for the Battle of Books competition at Challenger for four years and, during her freshman and sophomore years, went back to coach the team.

Ask her now about favorite books and you'll get a diverse list, from Anthem, Ayn Rand's dark novella about a dystopian future, to On the Road, Jack Kerouac's classic Beat generation tale of adventure along America's highways.

Selby considered Springstead's International Baccalaureate program, but decided instead to tackle Advanced Placement classes and to enroll at PHCC, taking college courses during the school year and over the summer. She's currently 10th in her senior class; in June, she will receive both her high school diploma and her associate's degree, and will soon submit her application to the University of Florida.

After taking John Imhof's American history course at Springstead, Selby's love of the subject started to evolve into a desire to teach it. Last year, to satisfy a requirement for an education course at PHCC, Selby taught a history class at Challenger. She gave her students a rigorous lesson about Andrew Jackson.

"They really got it, and were proud of themselves for trying so hard, so I left feeling like I made a difference," she said.

Now she sees herself doing it for a living.

This year, Selby submitted an entry for U.S. Rep. Rich Nugent's Constitution Day essay contest. She focused on the 19th Amendment, which gave women the right to vote, as an example of the document's ability to evolve along with the American people.

"That means an awful lot to her, that the process allows our government to adapt and change," Imhof said. "She wants to be part of that change, of moving our society forward."

• • •

Every Sunday this past summer, Selby drove her little Saturn sedan to the Senior Citizens Center of Hernando in Spring Hill to serve up three-course dinners to the needy, the elderly and anyone else seeking fellowship over a hot meal. Regulars ask for Selby, a petite young woman with big brown eyes and a bright smile, and laugh with her as they sip sweet tea.

She makes it to the dinners about every other Sunday now that school has started and she landed a part-time job. Her work for the program, offered by the interfaith nonprofit group People Helping People, is the latest in Selby's long history of volunteerism.

At Challenger, Selby joined the Beta Club, serving as the service club's vice president in her eighth-grade year. She suspects she picked up a benevolent bent by watching how her mother, Rachel, an addictions counselor, tends to clients in need.

"It has kind of stuck with me," Selby said.

Now president of Springstead's Beta Club, Selby has wielded wet sponges at carwashes, served up pizza slices at the school's homecoming carnival and led the effort to put together Springstead's annual Powder Puff football game, helping to raise thousands of dollars for the Relay For Life and the Muscular Dystrophy Association.

As a freshman, Selby started teaching a seventh-grade religion course at her church, St. Joan of Arc Catholic. It was another confirmation of the power of teaching.

"They're still in that kid stage and trying to be cool, and sometimes it comes off as jerky to other students," she said. "I want them to understand they can be themselves and be loved."

Her wisdom and maturity beyond her years is a source of friendly ribbing by her friends.

"We're a goofy crew, and she just kind of keeps us in line," said Will Allen, a 16-year-old junior who served as a Springstead delegate and helped with Selby's School Board campaign. "She's going to be a great mom one day."

• • •

In the run-up to last week's vote, Selby and her campaign volunteers rushed to visit every elementary and middle school campus. They fell just one school shy.

She remembers being struck by a question from an Eastside Elementary student: What gives you the courage to do what you do?

"Knowing that I have the support system at home," she replied, "that my family and friends are going to back me up no matter what. And the desire to make my sisters' futures as great as they can be."

As Selby practiced her campaign speech last week, her 10-year-old sister, Audrey, listened patiently and clapped when Selby was finished. Then she offered a tip.

"Maybe you should smile with your eyes," said Audrey, a 10-year-old fifth-grader at Challenger.

Audrey and Selby's other sister, Morgan, a 15-year-old freshman at Springstead, have already offered a firsthand connection to constituents' concerns. Selby plans to have suggestion boxes in every school media center to complement the e-mail address the district will provide, and is eager to visit schools. She will have two class periods each day to focus on her new duties.

Selby works about 10 hours a week as a cashier and drive-through attendant at the Hardees restaurant in Weeki Wachee, where she smiles back at customers who get testy about mixed-up orders. Superintendent Bryan Blavatt told her it was great experience for her new role as student representative.

Selby will not have a vote. Asked if she worried about being a mere figurehead, she replied without missing a beat.

"The intention of this position was to have a student's opinion on the policies that are enacted, and I'm going to take my position seriously," she said. "The students trusted me enough to vote me in. They felt I was the most qualified, and I'm not going to let them down."

Tony Marrero can be reached at (352) 848-1431 or tmarrero@sptimes.com.

Tori Selby looks forward to continuing her volunteer work as first student representative on Hernando School Board 10/01/11 [Last modified: Saturday, October 1, 2011 11:22am]
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