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Live your vote: Students learn importance of democracy through civic engagement

In making the rounds this past Family Weekend, I wondered what an 8-year-old brother of a Johnnie would have to say about the election. Sure, the kid can’t vote, but he has a voice as much as any other.

“So who would you vote for?” I asked. “Mitt Romney,” he proudly declared.

“And why’s that?”

“Because if I voted for Obama, my dad would make me sleep outside.”

A reasonable response from the little guy; I gave him nucks. Not because I know he wants to vote for Obama, but because I’m glad to know that by the time he can vote (and especially if he attends St. John’s), he’ll probably stick it to the man. With this in mind, the significance of young voters in America is often underrated. Today, in fact, 21 percent of all eligible voters are between the ages of 18 and 29. By comparison, our chunk of 46 million eligible balloters outnumbers seniors by 7 million. As it will be the first time voting of a large majority of the students reading this, I find it appropriate to reflect on this substantial influence.

I first applaud our students on the amount of engagement with the issues taking place this year. The political climate is palpable. I have no doubt students feel comfortable confronting the problems and voicing their thoughts. In fact, a recent study reported that 80 percent of college students “feel empowered to form their own opinions on social/political issues.” It’s notable that this is a marked improvement on years past, and I have wondered why this is the case. For one, it’s plausible to reason that the primary means of our engagement with the issues have taken new form.

And don’t be mistaken-it’s a very serious change. The revolution that is social media has been brought to the forefront and churns out remarkable statistics daily. For example, during President Obama’s DNC nomination speech, the Tweetosphere tallied 52,756 tweets per minute, setting a new record. The event in total saw 9.5 million mentions reflecting an unprecedented amount of interaction. What’s more here is that the average age of social media users is 18-34. Our generation leads the charge and that is inspiring.

At times, however, I question if these staggering statistics are a measure of increased civic engagement or rather propensity towards civic entertainment. While perhaps not mutually exclusive, at times it appears that concern is misguided and stops at a tweet. We’re granted freedom and liberty to express our views, but tucked away in cyberspace I’m not convinced these are effective means to make change.

Don’t get me wrong, new voters. Vote. Vote and tweet, and update your status in jubilee for democracy. That said, don’t stop there. And Andrew Hovel, SJU junior and SJS senator, so advises in his current FB status: “Live your vote.” The way we make continual change for the better is to take a stand for what’s needed these next four years, regardless of the outcome.

All elections are hyped “the most important in years.” This one, however, really is — the future of America will see one of two very different paths. Given the state of affairs worldwide, it’s imperative that American citizens choose a proper leader. In the wake of that decision, it’s equally imperative we act. My younger pal may sleep outside a few nights after Nov. 6; nevertheless exercising democracy has never been more exciting.