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When Jonathan Hayes, '18, was 16 years old, he sat glued to the television in his Pennsylvania home as the Republican Party nominated Mitt Romney. Still two years shy of voting age, Hayes saw parallels between his bourgeoning conservative ideals and Romney's, but he looked for something else: someone who looked like him.

As a now 20-year-old Catholic Latino, Hayes hasn't found many reflections of himself in the GOP. But rather than disengage with the party he proudly registered with, Hayes set out to change its image by running to become the youngest member of the Pennsylvania state delegation at this summer's RNC.

"It's difficult to be a Republican at this time," Hayes said. "But my philosophy is that, if I leave, will anything change?"

Hayes' parents were initially skeptical of their son's plan, but only out of concern for his schoolwork. The compromise? Hayes ran his campaign from his room in Gray Court, writing letters to constituents and newspapers, while his mother and neighbors back home collected the 250 signatures he needed to get on the ballot. Hayes called it "the grassroots system 101."

Neither Hayes nor his parents expected a win. They saw the campaigning process as a learning opportunity and a chance to get Hayes' name out into the community. Though he lost the delegate race, Hayes snagged the alternate position, which meant he packed his bags for Cleveland and the Republican National Convention in July.

Hayes' goal at every step in the process was to "show people it's possible" for a first-generation, Latino college student to have a place in the GOP. He also sported a rainbow flag lapel pin — a symbol of gay rights — and gave a standing ovation after Peter Thiel, an openly gay conservative, spoke. Hayes said he felt like a unicorn when journalists, including Stephen Colbert, flocked to him.

But feeling like a unicorn was better than feeling like a token, which Hayes said he experienced within the Pennsylvania state delegation. After Hayes prepared a prayer to present to his fellow delegates, a staffer told him someone else would lead the breakfast prayer — someone else who, as Hayes interpreted it, had made substantial donations to the party.

"It perplexes me beyond belief how some state parties want to champion — and this is on both sides of the aisle — champion certain demographics but at the last minute change their mind," Hayes said. "I'm the future of the party."

Hayes channels his frustration into his political work. A summer intern in the House of Representatives and a senator for the Richmond College Student Government Association, Hayes harnesses his grievances to change systems from within. The trick, he said, is open mindedness.

"You have two ears and one mouth," Hayes said. "Use them in that order."