When freshman Arthur Leopold cast his vote for Barack Obama, he celebrated not only his first chance to participate in a presidential election but also the end of a nearly two-year Herculean effort to help the Democratic candidate win.
As the youngest member of Obama's finance committee and one of the youngest elected delegates at the Democratic National Convention, Leopold raised nearly $1 million for Democratic candidates, including more than $200,000 for the Obama campaign.
Though Leopold, a dual Canadian-American citizen, grew up in a politically active household, he long viewed politics as a spectator sport.
"My father always talked about politics," he says of real-estate executive Stephen Leopold, who was an investigator on the Senate Watergate Committee and an executive assistant to former Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney.
"I was always talking politics in high school, always reading the [New York] Times, watching CNN," he says. "But I never imagined immersing myself in the political world." Instead, Leopold, who grew up in Montreal and New York and attended a prestigious ski academy in Vermont, hoped to become a professional ski racer.
When it became clear that he couldn't compete at that level, Leopold was at a loss. "Dad said, since you like politics, why don't you think about getting involved?"
He went to the Congressional district that represents his family's home address on the Upper East Side of Manhattan and signed on to assist Democratic Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney's bid for reelection. When her campaign manager left, Leopold was asked to step in.
"I wasn't really ready, but I learned a lot," Leopold says.
Meanwhile, he was accepted to Duke under the early-decision program in 2007. Though generations of Leopolds had attended McGill University in Montreal, Arthur broke the mold. "I felt like the bond of students and faculty at Duke was amazing." But he did choose to defer his admission for one year to continue fundraising.
Leopold doubts he would have remained politically active if Obama hadn't joined the race.
"I am completely energized by Obama," he says. "He's like J.F.K. was to my dad's generation. It's a movement for change."
While Leopold, who plans to major in public policy and political science, will continue his political work, he says he's "really focused on the next four years at Duke." He's joined the ski team and will possibly participate in student government. Until recently, Leopold never considered becoming a politician himself. "During the campaign, I realized you can have a voice and an influence on people's lives."
Arthur Leopold, campaigning for change
November 30, 2008