As many decry the breakdown of civil discourse in politics, two South Carolina teens are proving that disagreement doesn't have to equal disrespect.
Lauren McDowell, who describes herself on Twitter as a "queer feminist," volunteers on a Democratic congressional campaign and advises candidates on LGBTQ-related issues. In her junior year, McDowell founded a chapter of South Carolina High School Democrats at Blythewood High School, a public school about 20 miles (32 km) north of Columbia.
Politically active since middle school, Will Galloway volunteered for Republican Rick Santorum's 2016 presidential campaign. At Blythewood, he started an affiliated chapter of South Carolina Teenage Republicans and recently wrapped up two terms as chair of the South Carolina Federation of Teenage Republicans.
But, even as they find themselves on diametrically opposite sides of the political spectrum, Galloway and McDowell have developed not only as leaders among their fellow students, but as friends.
After both received Congressional History Awards from U.S. Rep. Joe Wilson during a recent end-of-the-year ceremony, McDowell tweeted about how honored she was to receive the honor alongside her "best friend," Galloway. "Incredibly grateful, wouldn't want to share it with anyone else," she wrote.
The parallel lives of these budding politicos intersected in Patrick Kelly's third-period AP government class last fall, when, as Galloway puts it, "the two government nerds sat front and center."
Knowing their political differences of opinion, Kelly said he chuckled to himself when the avid students picked adjacent front-row seats. But as classes wore on, Kelly said the natural leaders shone, developing into respectful opponents with more in common than they might have thought.
Kelly assigned passages from The Federalist Papers, giving them portions to read over and study but not requiring the class to buy the entire set. But he said it came as no surprise when, on the first day of discussion, Galloway and McDowell each pulled out their own hardcopies of the essays, which they had been studying, separately.
"I almost lost it, laughing," he said. "They handled the discourse with a level of maturity which was just incredible. They are passionate about public service."
Seeing in each other a worthy political opponent and civic-minded citizen, the pair decided to team up in what Galloway describes as "a cool way to show bipartisanship." In a one-day fundraiser for hurricane relief, their groups rounded up $1,000 for One America Appeal, headed up by the five living former U.S. presidents.
"We found out that, even though our political and personal lives are pretty different, we got along pretty well," Galloway said. McDowell adds: "There was this moment of realization that there are some things that he and I fundamentally disagree on, but at the end of the day, we both just want to make change."
Bipartisan unity isn't unheard of in South Carolina, where all state-level offices and control of both legislative chambers are held by Republicans. During their tenure heading the state Republican and Democratic parties, respectively, Matt Moore and Jaime Harrison frequently teamed up, hosting a voter education symposium and co-teaching a college class on political parties.
Now, as both move on from high school — Galloway to Clemson University, McDowell likely at community college as she ponders next steps — they'll get to participate in the political process in a different way: For the 18-year-olds, South Carolina's June primary elections mark the first time they'll be able to vote.
And in pondering those electoral choices, McDowell said she'll be recalling the friendship that's provided her with a valuable education in seeing issues from a different point of view.
"Whenever I look at Republicans and I talk to Republicans, I see a part of Will in them now," she said. "They're not just this abstract person."