By KEITH RYAN CARTWRIGHT
Rutherford County Schools
“Hi. My name is Eshan Patel. I’m from Tennessee and I’m running for secretary.”
If he said it once, Patel said it thousands and thousands of times — literally — in less than a week.
Patel, an incoming senior at Central Magnet School, is believed to be the first student from Rutherford County Schools elected to a national BETA office. Patel will serve as secretary at the national level, as well as for Central’s club and the state club.
Two other Central students — Matthew Connors (vice president) and Emma Watson (secretary) — previously held national offices for Junior BETA.
Patel spent a few days meeting and shaking hands with as many people as he could during the recent national convention in Orlando, Florida, before giving a speech in front of more than 20,000 people.
Prior to walking on stage, Patel had a microphone in his hand.
He was nervous.
Once he stepped out into the bright lights, his knees were shaking and his heart felt like a thousand pounds.
But he was equally as confident.
Patel chose to have the freedom of walking around on stage — an approach he and his BETA sponsors thought would make a more personal impact — rather than stand behind a podium like other candidates running for secretary, vice president and president.
“The first couple seconds of the speech it kind of hits you like a truck,” Patel said of his speech that lasted one minute and 45 seconds, “and then you contain yourself and get back to it.”
He added, “I think the most important thing was having the speech memorized.”
Patel had given slightly altered versions of the same 350-word speech when he ran for the secretary position at Central and again last November when he ran for the statewide secretary position at the Tennessee convention.
As comfortable as he was with the speech itself, Patel said it was strange looking out at a “massive blur” of 20,000 people.
Other than being able to identify specific people in the front row, the rest of the crowd was nothing more than a sea of people.
It was an opportunity of a lifetime.
“I remember getting off stage and thinking about that,” said Patel, who then wondered if he had forgotten any words.
“Did I mess up?” he asked his fellow BETA members from Central.
In unison they replied, “No.”
As a show of support, his fellow students wore T-shirts with his campaign slogan, “Excel with Patel.”
Over the past 80 years, the National BETA Club has become the largest independent, non-profit, educational youth organization in America.
According to its mission statement, their focus is to promote academic achievement, character, service and leadership among elementary and secondary school students.
There are BETA clubs in about 40 states, according to Patel, who said 18 of those have state conventions. He is planning to attend state conventions in Arkansas and West Virginia, while also advocating for new clubs in schools and states that don’t already host BETA chapters.
Only days after being selected to serve as the national BETA secretary, he and other national BETA leaders traveled to Washington, D.C., where they met with members of congress, including U.S. Rep. Jim Cooper of Nashville.
They also participated in the laying of the wreath at The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery.
“I can’t even put into words how incredible the experience was,” Patel said.
“Eshan is a great young man,” Central Principal Dr. John Ash said. “He has a great deal of leadership ability. We were excited that this was recognized on a national level.”
Patel, 17, whose younger sister Mira will be a freshman at Central this year, first became involved in Junior BETA as an eighth-grader.
Patel is also a member of the varsity baseball team at Central.
However, he said, BETA is “like home to me.”
His involvement in the BETA club has led to an interest in campaigning and policymaking. He’s admitted to being “intrigued” by a career in politics.
“I can foresee myself working in government,” said Patel, who is in the process of applying to Stanford University, Wake Forest University, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Duke University, University of Virginia, Georgetown University and Auburn University.
“I really like the whole politics aspect of it, but I’m also really intrigued by national security.”
Whether he pursues a career in politics or with either the Department of Homeland Security, or perhaps, the C.I.A., it will be in stark contrast to the medical professions of both parents.
His father, Dr. Utpal Patel, has been practicing internal medicine for the past 25 years and his mother, Tina, is a vaccine sales representative for Merck.
“They’re very proud,” Patel said of his parents’ support.
His mother traveled with him to Orlando for the National BETA Conference and was among the 20,000 attendees to hear him speak.
“Her support and my father’s support and my sister’s support was absolutely incredible,” Patel said.
He credits them (and other family members) with giving him the confidence to believe he could deliver a winning speech.
In fact, on a recent family trip to Africa, Patel kept a copy of his speech, which was handwritten on a piece of notebook paper, folded up in his right front pocket.
He silently read it to himself numerous times on the flight to Africa.
Then after gazing at lions and tigers and photographing giraffes and other exotic animals during a safari with his family, Patel would read his speech to family members as a driver would take them back to camp for the night.
“I’d be like, ‘All right guys, BETA speech. I have to give it in 10 days, so lets go,’” said Patel, who chuckled at the idea of making time to practice even when he was more than 8,000 miles from his home in Murfreesboro.
“The BETA club is one of the biggest parts of my life now.”
PHOTOS PROVIDED BY PATEL FAMILY