DRACUT -- In five years when they're eligible, a dozen eighth-graders in Lakeview Junior High teacher Rebecca Duda's civics class may vote for state Sen. Barry Finegold because of a bill he promised not to introduce.
Based on the results of his question-and-answer session with the students, "A bill to switch to a six-day school week, including Saturdays -- definitely not popular with this group," said Finegold.
"So that's one bill I won't be filing," he said.
Public service and standing in front of a classroom come naturally for him, noted Finegold, whose parents were both teachers.
Finegold, 41, was making his second guest appearance in Duda's class since being elected to the Senate seat representing Dracut, Tewksbury, Lawrence and Andover in January 2011.
For the next half-hour he spoke about: What idea he had for a career at 13; how he first caught the "political bug"; how he went about becoming Andover's youngest-ever selectman in 1994; and the best thing to do -- and worst thing to say -- if you happen to run for president, a political history lesson handed down by a pair of Kennedys.
"When you were in eighth grade, did you think you'd be where you are today?" student Emma Carney asked him.
"At 13, definitely not. I actually thought one time that I was going to be a stock broker," Finegold answered. "But I didn't have it figured out in the eighth grade, so not to worry."
Entering college, he had still yet to decide on a career.
"I was at the 1992 Democratic National Convention, saw Bill Clinton, and thought it was pretty cool. And that's where I got the 'political bug' and decided to run for office," recalled Finegold. "Someone said to me, 'If you're serious about politics you have to go back home.' So I went back to Andover where I grew up."
There followed his history-making upset electoral victory at 23 against two veteran incumbent Andover selectmen, won largely due to his outworking everybody and knocking on thousands of doors, even on the coldest and wettest of days, Finegold said.
Though he obtained a law degree, one doesn't have to be a lawyer to be a lawmaker, he told the class.
"I have colleagues from all walks of life: former teachers, doctors, some who worked in real estate, insurance."
For student Tyler Burgoyne, who shared with the class his aspiration to be president, Finegold had this special advice: Know exactly why you want to be the chief executive, and be able to articulate it. Unlike the late U.S. Sen. Ted Kennedy, who during the 1980 election campaign, famously fumbled his answer to CBS' 60 Minutes correspondent Roger Mudd's question: "Why do you want to be president?"
"For example, If you asked me that question, why do I want to be a state senator, I'd answer, 'It's because I want to make higher education better; I want to help people try to get better jobs; I want to make sure we have a good environment, and I want to make sure people have opportunity.'
"The biggest mistake people in a position of leadership make is to not tell people why you want to be a leader, and exactly what you want to get done."
President John F. Kennedy set a leadership example by his actions during the 1960 presidential campaign in Wisconsin, said Finegold.
"John Kennedy really needed to win Wisconsin to become president, and as part of that effort he got up at 4 o'clock in the morning to greet workers of a large meat-packing plant and shake their hands in the freezing cold. By the time he's done shaking hands his knuckles were bleeding, it was so cold," Finegold told the students. "If I saw someone working like that, willing to put that kind of effort in, I'd be inspired. Anytime you're in a leadership position, you need to lead by example."
The state senator asked the students to promise him that five years from now they will each register and vote.
"What we take for granted all the time in this country is what a privilege it is to vote," said Finegold. "There are many countries -- North Korea, Venezuela, Cuba -- they don't even have the opportunity to choose their leaders.
"What's great about this country is, if you don't like what you hear, you can vote me out and put someone else in there. That is what democracy is all about. But it only can work if all of you take advantage of it. I'm not saying you have to be like Tyler and run for president, but you should vote."