However the voting in Tuesday’s Indiana primary goes, one of the polling sites had another election six days before proving that America has never been greater.
Portage High School is polling place No. 38 in Porter County for the Republican and Democratic primaries. The Republican candidate for president everybody is talking about is Donald Trump, whose slogan is famously “Make America Great Again.”
But the school is also where the senior class voted on who will be this year’s prom queen, with the winner to be announced this coming Saturday night. The candidate everybody is talking about in that election is a 19-year-old transgender student named Dakota Yorke. She rightly views her presence among the four finalists as a sign that we are evolving as a nation beyond where we ever were before.
In whatever bygone era it is that Trump invokes when he says “again,” Yorke almost certainly would have received an emphatically negative response when she went to the school office to inquire if she could try for her lifelong dream and run for prom queen. She says she encountered enough “negativity” and “roadblocks” when she was younger that she would not have had the nerve even to ask as recently as last year.
“I was just too scared to think about running for prom queen,” she tells The Daily Beast.
She attended the 2015 prom wearing a tuxedo.
“It sickens me even to say it,” she says. “It felt like not myself at all.”
Somebody asked if she wanted a picture taken. She replied yes.
“But inside I was ‘no,’” she recalls.
As she proceeded from her junior year into her senior, she gained an ever stronger and clearer sense of self.
“I started figuring out who I was, I started to be more confident,” she says. “I started to be more healthy for myself.”
She felt ready for something that was born of movies and TV shows she saw in childhood.
“There was always somebody winning prom queen and I was, ‘This is going to be me some day,” she recalls. “That was my big dream. You feel so beautiful, so accomplished, so strong.”
She decided to give it a try.
“It was like my moment, my time, my coming out,” she says. “I’m going to live my life. I’m going to run for prom queen. I’m just going.”
Every American should be proud of the response she got when she went to the school office.
“I did ask out of respect if I would be able to run for prom queen,” she recalls. “They were more than happy: ‘It’s the student vote, let’s see what happens.’”
As the candidates for president were campaigning across Indiana, Dakota was busy, busy, busy campaigning in Portage High School.
“Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, all my social media,” she says. “I called all my friends: ‘Girl, I’m running for prom queen.’”
Her Facebook post on April 26:
Tomorrow is the F I N A L VOTING DAY for Prom Queen
Seriously so excited I can’t even deal! Cast your precious and final votes TOMORROW during your lunchtime
Stay kind and stay loving
The following day, the school set up two polling places—one in the library, the other in the bookstore—with boxes where students deposited paper ballots.
“My vote is a prayer..good luck sweetheart!!” a friend named Tammy posted on Dakota’s Facebook timeline.
On April 29, Dakota arrived a touch late for school and checked in at the office.
“The office ladies were like, ‘Did you see?’ I said, ‘No, what?’” she remembers.
They directed her to the bulletin board. The names of the four finalists for prom queen had been posted. And one of them was hers.
“I can’t believe this is happening to me,” she says.
The school was as supportive as she ever could have hoped.
“Everybody was, ‘I’m so excited for you!’” she reports. “In the hallways; ‘Hey, Dakota! Dakota!’ Nothing but love and respect. Especially the teachers. The teachers are really kind to me.”
Word spread, and the Chicago Tribune ran a column about her. She was interviewed by three local TV news stations.
The winner remains a secret until the prom. Dakota wishes only the best for her sister finalists.
“No matter who wins this, I wish the best of best of luck for all you gorgeous ladies,” she tells The Daily Beast. “I’m just so excited for everyone. It was probably amazing to them too that they were nominated.”
She adds, “To me it’s not about winning the crown. I just want be a positive influence. I want to make a difference.””
In the meantime, she went shopping for her prom dress. She strode past the items on display at the front of the shop.
“All the expensive, gorgeous, gorgeous dresses,” she says.
She continued to the rear.
“There was like a back door,” she recalls. ‘That’s where all the cheap dresses are. That people wouldn’t find appealing. I started looking there, trying to find a little treasure.”
And there it was.
“I found the most perfect dress ever,” she reports. “I knew it was the perfect one. Like Cinderella.”
She tried it on.
“It was more than right,” she says. “It was just meant for me.”
She is not in the least bit disheartened that she will be going unescorted to the prom.
“I’m going all by myself,” she says. “You don’t need a group, you don’t need a date. It’s the night of your life. Just go to the prom and have fun.”
With so much excitement, Dakota should be forgiven for not paying a great deal of attention to the other voting at her school, for the presidential primaries. She says she will be more attentive in the future.
“I feel like I should look out for it more because my vote does count,” she allows. “It’s for the sake of the country.”
At the same time, the big-time candidates might learn something from the prom queen election at Portage High School. Trump may be fine with Caitlyn Jenner using the ladies’ room at Trump Tower, but in pledging to “Make America Great Again,” he is harking back to a time before Caitlyn could openly be herself and before gays could marry and before blacks could become president, a time when Dakota would have been told heavens, no, she certainly could not run for prom queen.
Dakota’s mantra is more “Make America Even Greater.” “I feel like we have much more to work on,” she says. “I feel like our country is getting more open-minded, more positive.”
Whoever becomes the next president, Dakota is working hard to get her cosmetology license. Her next dream it is to go to Los Angeles and become a makeup artist.
“I want to live my life,” she says.