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From Government Class to the Real Thing: Valedictorian Runs for County Seat

Discussions Inspired Graduate’s Run for Political Office


When Logan Arkema was absent after having his wisdom teeth pulled, Byron Center AP government and history teacher Randy Cotts got an interesting email about how Logan was spending his sick day.

Arkema had called cable news channel C-SPAN to discuss net neutrality and was speaking on the air. Cotts played the recording for the class. “The body language and facial expressions of the students when they heard Logan was way more than I could deliver as a teacher,” he said later.

Now the 18-year-old 2016 Byron Center High School valedictorian continues weighing in on issues, including schools, parks, roads and public safety. Arkema is running for a seat on Kent County Commission and credits Cotts for sparking his interest in local politics.

A freshman at Georgetown University, in Washington D.C., Arkema looks back at his classes with Cotts as instrumental in helping him develop his passion for getting involved. Engaging discussions inspired him to bring more youth voice to politics. “I wanted to do something,” he said, explaining that local issues often affect young people’s lives most directly.

Arkema said he wanted to put a Democratic face on the ballot in the traditionally Republican district by pursuing the 7th District county commission seat, which represents Grandville and part of Wyoming. He will face off against incumbent Republican Stan Ponstein Nov. 8. If elected, Arkema said he will use Skype or a similar program to participate in meetings.

“Democracy at its base needs choices,” Arkema said. “I decided to run to make sure people had a choice when they come to vote in November. I want to see more young people become involved in local government.”

Born with Justice in his Bones

Arkema campaigned for U.S. Sen. Gary Peters and former U.S. Rep. Mark Schauer during the 2014 midterm elections. After that, he started Byron Center High School Democrats and helped revive other chapters of the Michigan High School Democrats.

He served as chair of the Michigan High School Democrats and development director for High School Democrats of America. He is now membership director at the DC Federation of College Democrats.

Cotts said Arkema represents how capable young people are.

“Sometimes too much in our society students look at adults and always expect them to take on the leadership role,” Cotts said. “To have a student like Logan who basically through his actions does things like running for Kent County and getting involved in local politics — what a great role model for the other students to see.”

Arkema’s mother, Christy Tripp-Arkema, a English-language learner teacher at Byron Center High School, said standing up for what’s right is innate for her son.

“I’ll just say from birth the kid has been all about righteousness and justice,” she said. “He is so fair and so open-minded and he knows right from wrong.”

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Erin Albanese
Erin Albanese
Erin Albanese is associate managing editor and reporter, covering Byron Center, Kentwood, Wyoming and Grand Rapids Community College. She was one of the original SNN staff writers, helping launch the site in 2013 and enjoys fulfilling the mission of sharing the stories of public education. She has worked as a journalist in the Grand Rapids area since 2000. A graduate of Central Michigan University, she has written for The Grand Rapids Press, Advance Newspapers, On-the-Town Magazine and Group Tour Media. Read Erin's full bio or email Erin.

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