Sumter Pastor Clay Smith: When I was president...


I served a term as president. Unlike Presidents Biden and Trump, I was elected without opposition, and there were no scandals during my administration. Of course, my term was only one month.

Mr. Rich, my fifth-grade teacher, was wise. He decreed that each month, we would elect a new class president. Out of a class of 24 or so, this meant that nine of us would be elected because Mr. Rich believed in term limits. Once you eliminated the shy girls (none of the boys were shy), you had a pretty good chance of being elected.

To be the class president meant you would preside over the class business meeting, which usually had one agenda item: the election of a new president. It also meant you got to lead the line to the lunchroom, where you held the door for the rest of the class to go in. This resulted in the class president eating last, an excellent lesson for all leaders.

I admit I lusted after the nomination. But according to the strict social code of fifth-grade elections, you could not campaign for the job. You had to wait for the job to come to you. You would sit during each class business session and hope that someone would notice you and you would be nominated.

I wanted the job because I thought it would make me somebody. Because I was not an athlete and really only excelled in reading and social studies, I wanted something to set me apart from the crowd. Secretly, I hoped Lori Lynn, a cute girl in my class, would notice me and consent to let me hold her hand. Political ambition has many strange roots.

The school year began with one of the popular girls being elected president. Then Tim Kiggins, an athlete, was elected. The pattern went back and forth: popular girl would be elected, and then, athletic boy. No one seemed to notice the novice trumpet player who was good at social studies and reading.

Then came the March election. The class president, the last of the popular girls, asked for nominations for class president. There was a strange silence in the room. Everyone was looking around, trying to see which athletic boy had not yet been elected. All of them had served a term. The collective subconscious of the fifth grade could not bring itself to break the pattern and elect two girls in a row. We were open to gender equality but not gender domination. The silence lengthened as 47 eyeballs swept the room (one boy had a glass eye, which he would take out at recess and show you if you gave him a nickel).

Desperate, my childhood friend and class clown, Charles Brown, raised his hand. Charles was an athlete and had served as president during the Great Milk Spill of 1969. Charles spoke those words I longed to hear: "I nominate Clay Smith to serve as president." My stomach dropped. I was in reach of my long-awaited goal: to be president of Mr. Rich's fifth-grade class and to have Lori Lynn notice me. Now came the agony of waiting to see who the opposition would be.

Three seconds can be a long time while you wait on a dream. Mr. Rich cleared his throat, and the girl who was president said, "If there are no other nominations, I declare the nominations closed. All in favor of Clay Smith as president, please raise your hands." Etiquette demanded you put your head down on your desk if nominated, so you would not see who voted for you or against you. My pal, Dale Tong, later reported to me the vote was unanimous, except for the one kid in the class who never voted for anything but stared out the window most of the time.

I went forward, accepted the gavel and declared the meeting closed. Other than leading the class to lunch, that was my last official duty until one of the smart girls was elected at the next class business meeting.

My primary goal in office, to attract the attention of Lori Lynn, was not achieved. She continued to ignore me on the playground, at school skating parties and during lunch. After fifth grade, she moved, and I never saw her again. What my fifth-grade political career taught me was being elected to office does not make you somebody, nor in my case, attract women.

Have you noticed Jesus encountered lots of nobodies? He called fishermen to follow him; he paused to find out the identity of the woman who touched the hem of his garment; he refused to run away from the Gadarene demoniac; he called out to the blind men in Jericho; he even invited himself to Zaccheus' house. Jesus refused to see people as "nobodies." Everyone he met was "somebody," somebody he was willing to die for, somebody he wanted to forgive and bring into his Father's Kingdom.

Whenever you feel like a "nobody," Jesus says you are "somebody." You don't need to win an election for him to notice you.

The Rev. Dr. Clay Smith is the lead pastor of Alice Drive Baptist Church in Sumter. Email him at