BY KYRA BACON
Thousands of Florida High School DECA students sat on the edge of their chairs, chatting excitedly and waiting for the Florida DECA President to reveal who would be the new State Vice-Presidents. When she finally spoke, silence crept over the room and everyone looked to her with anticipation. “The next Florida DECA Vice-Presidents will be…” Michael Stone,…”. She listed four names, but to the Cooper City High School DECA students attending the State competition in Orlando, Florida, Stone’s name was the only one that mattered. A sophomore and very enthusiastic DECA member, Stone had been campaigning all week to win this highly-coveted position. Stone stepped onto the stage in a daze, unaware of the 80 CCHS students standing and screaming his name. Instinctively he shook the Florida DECA President’s hand and stepped aside with a grin lighting his face.
“It was all a blur,” Stone said. “Apparently, people were clapping for me and everyone from Cooper City was standing and cheering. I don’t even remember clapping, but I was just on autopilot; I was so happy.”
This enormous feat was no easy task, even for someone as dedicated as Stone. For two and half days he had to convince other Florida DECA Chapters of his qualifications. Stone and fellow DECA members that volunteered to help with the campaign worked tirelessly setting up his booth and luring in DECA students from other schools in Florida with entertaining games and an attractive array of props. The theme “Roll with Stone” at the beach, complete with leis, surfboards, tiki torches, Hawaiian shirts and sunglasses was conceived before the State competition with careful consideration. Stone looked up past campaigns and found what ideas had worked and what hadn’t and then applied them to his own campaign.
Stone recalls his first pull towards the position of DECA State VP. After qualifying for and attending National competition in Salt Lake City, Utah in his freshman year, Stone fell in love with DECA. Like other VP’s it wasn’t long before Stone figured that he was hooked.
“I came home from Nationals and I decided to run for State VP,” Stone said. “I just knew that I wanted to be a bigger part of DECA after that trip.”
Soon after discovering this passionate goal, Stone set to work to figure out just how to approach it. He first talked to Brian Chalk, the adviser of the CCHS DECA chapter in September and got a head start on planning. The current CCHS DECA President, Nathaniel Gaudinez, was a former Florida State VP and helped Stone out any way he could.
“It definitely helped that Nate was a State VP previously,” Stone said. “He told me everything I could expect and is still giving me advice’
Gaudinez, who won his own campaign to become State VP in 2011-2012 with his slogan “Nate the Great”, helped to pave the path of Stone’s success.
“I basically told him the guidelines about the campaign and the tasks he would have to do,” Gaudinez said. “I told him to just be himself and stay organized. When I was a State VP, there were times when all the State VPs, including myself, had some organizational issues, so staying organized really helps.”
Gaudinez was in the first year of the State VP officers. In many ways, his fellow State officers and he were the trial run for Mr. Hosier, a teacher from Cypress Bay High School and the Florida adviser of DECA.
“Hosier wanted to test us out a bit and get a feel for what he wanted from his VPs, so our workload was much less than what Michael will be doing,” Gaudinez said. “Next year, when Michael is one of the new State VPs, the tasks will be more uniform because expectations from Hosier will be higher.”
Gaudinez decided to run for the President of the CCHS DECA chapter instead of going on to become the Florida President of DECA.
“I really wanted to be the President of my own DECA chapter, so in a way, it all worked out when I decided not to become Florida DECA President,” Gaudinez said.
With Gaudinez to guide him though the first few months, Stone felt he was ready for the campaign and job that awaited. All the applicants had to undergo a very specific process. The first step, Stone’s favorite, was caucusing, in which State VP applicants went around to the students and answered any questions they might have. The next step was one taken with much less enthusiasm. Each applicant had to give a four minute speech on their plans for the upcoming DECA year.
“All of us were freaking out backstage before the speeches,” Stone said. “It was very nerve-wracking because none of us really like going onstage. However, the caucusing was actually pretty enjoyable; I liked talking to the students.”
Luckily for Stone, his business talent and successful academic record made the application process much easier. Stone met all the qualifications, such as being a junior or senior, taking an exam on DECA facts and skills that he would need to use, such as organizational skills, and filling out forms to confirm his DECA membership and his appropriate academic rigor.
“To become a State officer, you didn’t actually need to have qualified for States or Nationals, but obviously it really helps if you had,” Stone said.
Stone was happy to say that he personally met all the criteria of an ideal State VP.
“I’m academically prepared and I’m an experienced leader,” Stone said. “It was like a checklist and I could put a check in all the boxes.”
Stone isn’t the only one who believes in the success of his new job as State VP. Chalk, the DECA adviser, was keen to compliment Stone, as was Gaudinez.
“Michael is very passionate about DECA, which will really help him in his vice-presidency, but Michael is also a little bit of a perfectionist,” Chalk said. “He doesn’t do anything half-way; he does the best job that he can on everything.”
Now Stone faces the tasks ahead with more knowledge, experience and encouragement. As a State VP, Stone will serve alongside the DECA Board of Advisers, plan organizational goals for the Florida chapters, run the Fall Leadership Conference, and write a business plan to define objectives of Florida DECA. Every Saturday, Stone meets up with the other State VPs from Broward County and once a month, all the VPs and the President of Florida DECA meet up in an online web meeting to discuss ideas.
Through his DECA experience so far, Stone has also found his career path: business. He’s already accomplished the first step in this goal (becoming State VP)
“At first, I didn’t know what I wanted to be, but after just a few months in DECA, I knew that I wanted to go into business,” Stone said.
Stone isn’t done with his DECA experience just yet though, and is deciding whether to take his interest in the club even further after next year.
“I’ve considered running for the President of Florida DECA and I hope to do so, but for now, I’m going to concentrated on being the best State VP that I can,” Stone said.