From persecuted to president

Political Discussions club nurtures governmental aspirations

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photo credit: John Olajimi

Mapping out the future \\ Born in Turkey, club President Mahmut “Matt” Yilmaz experienced discrimination for most of his life because of his father’s rejection of the country’s corrupt government. “My life in Turkey ended up pushing me to seek making a better future for future generations and with the opportunity of the club, I plan to encourage the discussion of preventative measures for future social problems and promote the understanding different viewpoints from people with different backgrounds,” Yilmaz said.

writer: Gloria Olajimi, Staff Reporter

His dad’s tales of prison seemed like a distant reality. Torture and injustice were two concepts too implausible to exist. He never imagined that persecution would affect his life until reality came knocking at his front door- until the police officers came to senior Mahmut Yilmaz’s house. 

The Political Discussions club is an organization that allows students to discuss current issues in the country. For founder and President Mahmut “Matt” Yilmaz, starting the club was a personal matter. 

Terrified of the police. Terrified of my classmates calling me a terrorist. Terrified of my dad getting abducted for objecting to the president.”

— Matt Yilmaz, senior

“I was always affected by events that were out of my control related to politics. Escaping a country and seeking asylum, politics have always affected my life,” Yilmaz said. 

Before moving to the U.S., Yilmaz and his family lived in Turkey at a time in which Turkish citizens lived under governmental corruption, as the people were refused human rights and political freedoms. As a member of a civil service group, Yilmaz’s father actively spoke against the Turkish government, forcing him and his family to live in constant jeopardy.  

“The civil service group had schools and foundations to help the society; however, this movement exposed the corruption of the Turkish government, so the president started prosecuting them,” Yilmaz said.  

Due to his father’s reformative aspirations, Yilmaz’s childhood consisted of discrimination, police brutality, and the ever prominent threat of kidnapping constantly looming over his head. 

“‘A progressive terror’ could describe my childhood in a few words. Terrified of the police. Terrified of my classmates calling me a terrorist. Terrified of my dad getting abducted for objecting to the president,” Yilmaz said. 

As he feared, Yilmaz’s father was nearly abducted by police officers during a mass arrest event happening across the country, but the officers were not searching for Yilmaz’s dad specifically that day, so he was not arrested. When his family moved to America to escape persecution, Yilmaz brought with him a new-found discernment of humanity.  

“The most important perception that my politics-ridden life has taught me is that the world needs people that give their all to make a change,” Yilmaz said. 

With the desire to influence the world around him, Yilmaz created the Political Discussions club his senior year of high school. Assisted by fellow leadership members, he made the club to be a safe space for students to learn about and discuss social issues and explore differing beliefs with their peers. 

“Through learning and discussing these issues in high school, this club plants the seeds for a brighter future,” Mahmut said. 

Students discuss a number of current social and governmental issues. Club leaders welcome all viewpoints and opinions to the discussions. 

“My favorite discussion so far would be ‘Rehabilitation vs. Prison Punishment,’” Vice President Valaria Adams said. “I think the discussion was really mind opening and changed a lot of opinions on the prison system we have today.”

The club meets every Thursday in AP U.S. history, AP government and on-level government teacher Mr. Matt Highfill’s room during B lunch in room 918. 

“I primarily act as referee. It’s a student-led club, and I allow the flow of ideas to be organic and unfiltered. Nevertheless, if discourse reaches a standstill, I’m there to redirect and steer discussion back in a positive direction,” Mr. Highfill said.

Each discussion is intended to help students gain a broader perspective of the world and encourage them to change society for the better.

 “Aspiring to be a political scientist, my life in Turkey has taught me to work hard for humanity’s sake and use the opportunities I have to their best,” Yilmaz said.