It’s graduation season. Last week I sat in the Riverside sun waiting to hear my cousin’s name called and watch her walk across a stage and metaphorically into womanhood, and I started to daydream about what message I might have if I were given the opportunity to speak to the class of 2007.
Dear Class of 2007,
I could use this time recite quotations from someone you’ve never heard of. I could (offensively) pretend that we have a relationship and lie about how proud I am of each and every one of you. I could tell an insipid story about a troubled youth that was once in your spot with obstacles on the horizon, and I could dramatically conclude the narrative by saying,“and that troubled teenager, my friends, was me.”
And if I have time I still might get to that.
But let me start with one small piece of advice that will make all of your lives better: vote.
(Aren’t you glad I didn’t say “wear sunscreen”?)
2 years ago when I was sitting out there in my cap and gown (okay, okay…maybe it was more like 8 or 9 years ago), I thought “my vote doesn’t count” and I was pretty certain that the vote of one 18 year old wasn’t going to be the deciding factor in any elections. If you’re thinking those same thoughts, you’re actually right. Chances are you will never be voting in an election that is decided by one or two votes, but your vote is valuable for other reasons.
Politicians don’t take us seriously. Far too often what young people care about (the environment, civil liberties and the number of our friends dying in Iraq) is pushed aside for things that old people care about (prescription drug prices, Medicare and the privatization of social security). That’s because on Election Day, old people turn out.
We’re voting on a secret ballot, so the government doesn’t know what you voted for, but they do know if you vote.
Just showing up on Election Day (and convincing a friend or two to do the same) is doing a service to the interests of young people, even if you’re voting for bad candidates or propositions.
Don’t worry about who or what you’re voting for (remember, your vote isn’t deciding too much). But if a lot of people your age and my age show up and vote, the politicians will get the message that we are a political force. The environment, civil liberties and the number of our friends dying in Iraq will become more important to elected officials.
Just registering to vote when you turn 18 will send a message to politicians, you suddenly transform from a useless teenager that they ignore at the shopping mall into a potential voter that can decide his/her fate. If you’re 18, register to vote and you’ll be helping young people all over this country.
And as Pierre Dulaine, played by Antonio Banderas in the 2006 ballroom-themed movie “Take The Lead” said “Only some people get what they want. Those are the people who show up to get it.”
So show up, class of 2007. You’ve made it this far, and ‘m incredibly proud of each and every one of you.
And let me close by telling you about a young man who, like you, was sitting at his high school graduation a few years ago, thinking that this world really sucks. Sucks hard. Sucks like that drain at the bottom of the Jacuzzi that was sucking that little girls hair in that scary episode of “Rescue 911.” But you are probably too young to remember “Rescue 911.” So just imagine a drain that sucks really, really hard.
This kid knew that politicians were more concerned with AARP than MTV, and that people his age just didn’t have any political clout. He was pretty depressed…he was on the verge of registering with the Green Party.
But then something happened: young voter participation increased from 36% in 2000 to 47% in 2004. Young people were starting to get it. And that troubled teenager, my friends, was me.
And I’m standing before you, after going through all that I have gone through, to say “show up,” and vote.
Thank you, and congratulations.