"I was talking to God; I said: 'If you let me win this one, I'll forget the others.' "
Finally, it seems that Matt Hall's prayers were answered, and in a big way. In January, Hall, an 18-year-old senior at Dana Hills High School, was elected youth governor of the YMCA's Youth in Government program. And with the victory were erased years of frustration.
Hall had lost three consecutive bids in school class elections.
"It's kind of ironic," he said. "Lose the class, win the state." But Hall is not complaining. "It's the best thing that could have happened to me. Things like being valedictorian are great but this is special," said Hall, who has a 4.1 grade-point average and was just selected as a commencement speaker for his school's graduation ceremonies.
As a representative of the Laguna Niguel-based South Coast YMCA, Hall is not the area's first youth governor. Last year, Pete Koebler, then a senior at Dana Hills, won the post.
In this model legislature program, Hall played the role of governor, overseeing the executive branch, meeting with student lobbyists and legislators and signing or vetoing bills.
"On one (a bill dealing with manually controlled radar devices), the Senate overrode my veto," Hall said. "I could have used the pocket veto and stalled until the convention was over, but I loved the turmoil. It's not just little kids playing senator; it was cutthroat."
Another of his duties during the five-day convention in February in Sacramento was to meet with student legislators and lobbyists who were seeking his support for certain bills. He met with about 150 people a day.
"After I supported one bill on Contra aid, I was sent a teddy bear," he said.
In Youth in Government, the students are trained by YMCA advisers as if they were government officials. The legislation that Hall signed as youth governor was forwarded to the real California Legislature where the ideas are reviewed by members of the Assembly. According to Hall, it was from a previous Youth in Government convention that the Legislature received the idea for what is now the mandatory seat-belt law.
"This is actual learning by doing," he said.
During his tenure, Hall was interviewed by local TV stations and met with political figures such as Gov. George Deukmejian and Bill Honig, state superintendent of education.
Of Deukmejian, Hall said: "That guy is smooth. He spoke and answered questions for the entire Youth in Government group and when hit with such killer questions as whom he'd like to see as the next President, he just said: 'In 1988, I'd like to see Youth Gov. Hall in the White House.' "
Hall said his willingness to get involved and his persistence were key factors in his success.
Apart from his involvement in Youth in Government, Hall's senior year has been nonstop activity. He is co-editor of the clubs' section of the school yearbook; president of the California Scholastic Federation chapter; attorney for the mock trial team; a member of the Junior Statesmen of America club; a participant in the social awareness club, ICON; a free-style bike rider and a three-time qualifier for the school's annual "Air Guitar" lip-sync show.
A big confidence-builder for Hall was when he and his friends won the Air Guitar show during his sophomore year, dancing to Depeche Mode's "Just Can't Get Enough."
"We went out there and cooked!" he said.
It was that event that encouraged him to get involved in school activities.
"Now about the only thing I haven't tried at Dana Hills is drama, and I still want to do that," he said. "Whatever you put into high school, you come out with twice as much. School is about teaching you about yourself. Even if you're quiet, the key is to get involved."
Though his intense schedule might seem to leave little room for anything else, Hall doesn't find his social life lacking.
"I would think that things I'm involved with have actually created my social life," he said. "When you're that heavily involved in so many things, you meet so many people."
"He's perceived very well by his classmates," said Rick Butera, Hall's advanced placement literature teacher.
Still, he admits that his life style hasn't made relationships any easier. "I don't make a very good boyfriend," he said. "I can't stay put in one place."
Next on Hall's agenda is a trip this month to Washington to meet with youth governors from throughout the country.
"We're going to go to hobnob with the senators," he said. "I just got a call asking for my Social Security number so they can check me out before I meet the President. I'm kind of peaking on the whole thing.
"I wonder if there will be any female youth governors?"
This fall, Hall will continue school at Notre Dame University. He plans to study social science, psychology, Oriental studies and pre-law in preparation for law school. He said that political activism will remain a part of his life, and is considering working for an Indiana congressman while at Notre Dame.
He intends to become a lawyer--either criminal or corporate--but is looking beyond material success.
"There's nothing I'd rather do than help people," he said.
Still, Hall has high self-expectations. He feels the best way to help others is to first put himself in a position to help. District attorney, senator and Supreme Court justice all strike him as worthy professions. Such goals may seem a bit overzealous, but those who know Hall are not surprised.
"He puts a great deal of pressure on himself, more so than other people," Butera said. "He sets incredibly challenging standards for himself and then somehow manages to meet them."
Said Hall: "The ability to do something permanent is very rare; I can do it. I have something inside me that says I'm supposed to succeed."
It just needed a little bit of encouragement to come out.