In high school, more than you might imagine do care about politics

By Zack Dean • Smoky Mtn. High School

I had to work late on Nov. 4, so upon coming home that night I didn’t know what to expect.

I walked into the living room to find a group of my mother’s friends glued to the couch, entranced by Barack Obama’s historical victory speech. As I joined them on the couch, I found myself curious as to what my peers thought of the election results, or if they even cared. My answer was clear the next day at school.

Sporting an Obama shirt, I received numerous high fives and pats on the back, a few snide comments but mostly apathy. Only a small number of my senior class was able to vote, and supporters of the newly elected president were scattered throughout the halls; some students were more interested in the results than others. Even with the few students interested in the previous night’s announcement, it was hard to differentiate the students who had a genuine opinion and those who were just wrapped up in the excitement.

I began to casually bring up the election in my conversations that day in school, resulting in a plethora of responses.

“(I’m) not 100 percent happy, but America chose” confessed Smoky Mountain High School Senior Ronnie Mau. “The election didn’t unite America like people thought it would.”

Senior Seth Kuehn agreed with Ronnie’s view on the election: “The change that Obama promises isn’t the kind of change we actually need.”

This kind of response was widespread, but pro-Obama comments were also sprinkled throughout. Fellow classmate Keller Berry confidently stated that, “With the outcome of this election, America has let out a sigh of relief, America needs a change, and Obama can bring it”.

I was excited to see some of my peers as enthusiastic and interested in this historical change of power as I was. But this excitement lost its sweetness as I heard an overwhelming amount of “I don’t knows” and “who cares?”

As young adults it is hard to make a decision based solely on what we know and believe. For the most part we lack the life experience needed to make an informed decision on which party to support. At this age our view on politics is heavily influenced by our family. It is rare to witness a student whose political beliefs differ from their parents.

But this isn’t bad. As fledgling leaders it is important for us to have a world view, no matter how biased. Without this early perspective, we are at the mercy of pop culture and side chatter that skews our opinions. I consider myself — and my generation — supremely lucky to live in a time where young people have such interest, and in some cases influence, on the politics of our nation.

After all, as I am sure you know, an overwhelming number of young Americans turned out to support President-elect Barack Obama. It was encouraging that day, to see some of my peers so energetic about the election of our new leader. All in all the youth of America is capable of enormous influence on our nation, and it is of great importance that we realize that power.

(Zack Dean attends Smoky Mountain High School in Sylva and has been following a reporter at The Smoky Mountain News as part of his senior project.)

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