Many people have suggested that the turnout for this year’s election among college aged students will be huge. I am not trying to dispute that. That’s not the point of this post. But I do think that what some of the skeptics are saying is indeed very possible. The best way to illustrate this is to share a personal story.
In 1996 I was a graphic design student at Penn State University. It was November of an election year. Bill Clinton and Al Gore were running against Bob Dole and Jack Kemp. I arrived at the studio on Monday morning. Monday came and went and then election day arrived and I was still working. I hadn’t showered or slept since Sunday night. I ate whatever my classmates were having delivered. Lanny was beating us up again with tight deadlines and impossible projects. I did not plan for days ahead. I definitely didn’t plan for weeks. And in theory I cared about my future, and the future of my country, but when it actually came down to voting, I was willing to put that aside. I had a project due Wednesday morning and as the hours slipped by, it became clear to me that I might not meet the deadline. I was tired, scared and most of all exhausted.
I was in the computer lab when the phone rang. It evening. A classmate opened the door, “Michele, phone’s for you. I think it’s your mother.”
I am one in a family of five. I have one younger brother and one older brother and two parents. We all get along amazingly well—all of us. I adore each and every one of them. I could write wonderful things all of them, but to most it will just come off as some biased and affectionate attribution. Just know that they’re incredible people.
They’re also Republican. (With the exception of my younger brother who is a registered Independent but he generally leans toward the Republican side of the ticket come election time.)
I am the lone Democrat in my family. I always have been.
“Did you vote?” She asked.
“No.” I grunted back. “Been too busy. Haven’t seen outside since yesterday morning.”
“You have to vote. It’s no excuse.”
“I don’t have time. I just don’t.” I was fighting back tears. I was so tired. The LAST thing I wanted to do was go and waste precious minutes—minutes I needed to finish the project—voting.
“You make time. This is important.”
“I can’t walk all the way down there. I have a project due in the morning. I am going to be up all night. Walking down there and then waiting in line and then walking back will take too long. And someone told me that it’s raining.” I whined.
“I am going to come pick you and drive you there and wait and you will vote and then I will drop you back off. No excuses. You have to vote.”
My Republican mother was insisting that her Democrat of a daughter vote.
“FINE!” I grunted.
“I’ll be outside in 20 minutes.” She hung up the phone.
My mother drove fives miles in the rain to pick me up and take me to vote. And I simply must illustrate to you how simply absurd this was.
The Visual Arts Building is represented by the blue square. The voting station I was to report to is in red.
Yes, you’re assuming right. It’s a very short distance. It’s a quick walk. I do that each and every day now toting a baby and sometimes five bags of groceries. But then I found it impossible to justify taking a few precious minutes out of my busy class schedule to get my ass down there and vote.
My laziness to this day astounds me. What on earth was I thinking? Or not thinking? Is any project that important? Any professor? How could anything be more important than voting? And I feel so silly that my mother came to pick me up. Believe me, I am well aware of how irresponsible I was. But I was in college and my days were filled with small and immediate deadlines. And at the time my president was my design professor.
While I think every college student has every intention of voting this Tuesday, I also think it’s naive to think that they will do so. College students may have their heads and hearts in the right place most of the time, but I think it’s easy to say one thing and then lose track of that time or decide it’s not as important as the immediate project at hand. I am not suggesting that all college students do this, but I can’t imagine that I am alone with my experience, as shameful as it may be.
In my case, I was lucky to be living near my parents when I was in college. Because if it hadn’t been for my mother, I never would have made it down there to vote. I had EVERY intention on doing so, I really did, but I just know I never would have made it happen. I know it to be true but I am not proud of that truth.
My mother waited in the car and I cast my vote. The rain continued to fall as I walked back to the car. It felt really great to be outside. I cleared my head for the long night I had ahead of me.
“Thanks.” I mumbled. I really meant it.
We sat in silence for a minute, listening to the sound of the wipers push water to and from.
“You do realize I voted for Clinton, right?”
“Yup. I kind of guessed.”
“Had you not done this, he would have had one less vote.”
“Yup.” She answered.
“That’s kind of funny, mom.”
Whether you’re a Republican (like every other member of my family) or a liberal leaning freak like myself, please get out and vote this year. Don’t say you don’t have time or that you don’t care. Don’t be a loser like me. And since my mother did such a smashing job at getting Clinton elected by insisting that I vote for him in 1996, I think I owe a ride to my fellow Americans, particularly those who are in college.
Do you need a ride this Tuesday? I will come pick you up—Republican or Democrat—I don’t care who you’re voting for. But you have to vote.