Last summer, Juneau resident Natalie Hale, 18, said she thought she was a conservative.
But a year later she found herself sitting on a stage in Boston while Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry gave his acceptance speech for the party's nomination.
After spending months working on the campaign for Democratic presidential hopeful Howard Dean, Hale attended local and state Democratic conventions earlier this year. She ultimately was nominated to serve as the youngest of 18 Alaska delegates to the Democratic National Convention held last week.
"When Kerry spoke, you could feel the energy in the air," she said. "It was amazing. I hoped that people would leave with that energy and spread it."
Hale, a recent graduate of Juneau-Douglas High School who leaves for Yale University in two weeks to study biology and political science, said the war in Iraq made her decide to become a Democrat.
She said she believes President George W. Bush lied about Saddam Hussein's possessing weapons of mass destruction.
"First, it was about weapons of mass destruction, and then when they weren't found, the war was to free the people of Iraq," she said. "It made me realize that I disagreed with the Republican Party."
Hale said she learned of former Vermont governor Howard Dean last summer and started helping to recruit supporters to his campaign.
"He was really bringing a lot of young people into the party," she said. "It empowered me. A lot of friends got involved after a voter registration drive at school."
In March, she attended the local Democratic caucus on behalf of the Dean campaign and was picked to serve as one of 37 delegates to go to the state convention.
Rich Listowski, a Juneau Democratic activist and former Democratic National Committee representative, said Hale helped turn the tide for Kerry over Kucinich at the state convention. After the state party narrowed the nomination down to the two candidates, supporters for both began working to persuade Dean supporters over to their side.
"The deal was she was guaranteed a seat (at the national convention)," Listowski said. "And she was selected. At that time she was only 17."
With the vote so evenly split, 7-6, Kucinich came close to making Alaska his only supporter.
"If we had gone to the Kucinich group, he would have won the state," Hale said.
At the Boston convention Hale said she attended a variety of caucuses for women, youth, African-Americans, health and labor.
During a caucus for the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees she was picked to introduce the keynote speaker, prominent Democratic activist Rob Reiner.
She also got to meet the man that got her interested in campaigns in the first place - Howard Dean.
On the last night of the convention she was chosen as one of 50 people to sit on stage as Kerry addressed the delegates.
"It was kind of a mixed blessing because we couldn't move for four and a half hours," she said, noting that they were kept in a holding room two hours before the speech and then spent two hours on the stage.
Andrea Doll, chairwoman of the Juneau Democratic Party, said it was her first time to attend a national convention, as well.
Doll said Hale was focused and self-confident, adding that she was almost the youngest person there.
"I did see a lot of young people on the Kerry campaign, but I don't think I saw anyone as young as Natalie," Doll said.
Hale now heads to Yale where she plans pursue a double major in molecular, cellular and developmental biology and political science. She said she hopes to eventually break into the field of clinical research for endocrinology, but added that she wants to continue to be involved in politics.
"Honestly, I don't know if I can keep out of politics," she said. "Everything is political in a way. Howard Dean was a doctor and he's in politics."
Timothy Inklebarger can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Juneau Empire ©2014. All Rights Reserved.