Gabriella Peterson and Chris Murphy, two seniors from the Civics and Government Institute (CGI) at Montclair High School will moderate the Montclair mayoral debate being sponsored by CGI at MHS on Thurs., April 26, 6:30-8:30 p.m. in the LGI. They will face the candidates with a number of questions concerning education in Montclair.
“The choice of Gabi Peterson and Chris Murphy was an easy one,” said advisor Bill Wingren. “Not only are Gabi and Chris exceptionally bright, but they are among the most respectful students I have known. They are two students who certainly have strong opinions, but are more likely to listen and think before they respond. When we are having heated debates in class, it is always Gabi and Chris who are most interested in hearing everyone’s thoughts before they make a statement.”
This may be Peterson’s and Murphy’s first time moderating a debate outside the classroom, but this is not the first time CGI has hosted such an event. In 2008 CGI held a mayoral debate, but on a smaller scale for students only and during the day. “This year we decided to make it a community event, but one that also spoke to and for the students of Montclair,” said Wingren.
Wingren is confident both students are well prepared to take on the task. “CGI has offered these incredibly talented students a forum and a platform to shine. Over the course of their three years in the institute, they have taken part in countless debates on issues related to local, state, national and world issues. Additionally, they have been exposed to a literature, history, government and civics curriculum that has encouraged critical thought.”
Yet both students admit to having a few jitters about the big night. “Yes I am nervous!” said Peterson. “But our teacher and numerous people in the community have been so supportive. We received a lot of questions and messages of encouragement and that makes me more excited than nervous.”
“At first I was nervous, but the confidence that my ‘We The People’ class instilled in me has prepared me to speak publicly,” added Murphy.
Despite the nerves, Peterson says she is looking forward to the opportunity and ready for the challenge. “I have always been interested in the changes that have been made to Montclair Public Schools, and I am honored to represent the Civics and Government Institute in a debate about education. This is a learning experience in addition to an exciting way to get involved in local politics,” said Peterson. “I am excited to hear the candidates’ answers to the questions. I think responses to certain questions will give me more insight into the three candidates and I hope to take away knowledge about them, and knowledge of the role the debate has in the election process.”
The students-turned-moderators have not only familiarized themselves with the candidates and the township, researched the role of mayor and studied the issues, but have also watched national debates and roundtable discussions on television to gain insight into how to control and guide a fair forum – though Murphy says his inspiration is a little more personal. “I am really inspired by my mother’s ability to moderate the arguments of my brothers and I. Though my brothers and I get along now, the trials we put her through in our youth were rigorous. Her ability to moderate us, hear the whole story, and stay level headed has been a source of strength for me.”
As they look toward the event tonight, with the school year winding down, they are also looking back at all they have experienced in CGI. “CGI has created a place where we have serious discussions about things that affect us on an international, national, and local level,” said Peterson. “Being a part of CGI and growing up in a politically savvy small learning community has helped me develop an interest in politics, and how both local and national government run,” said Murphy. “I hope to provide a better understanding of the mayoral candidates to the townspeople of Montclair as well as get myself further involved in the township.”