As our countries newest voters, it is imperative that we not just voice an opinion, but voice an intelligent opinion. Our civic obligation
Publication Date: Wednesday Oct 30, 1996

Our civic obligation

Voting, political participation are essential for young adults

by Jacob Ballon The following was delivered June 12 as a commencement address at Gunn High School. We print it today because of its timeliness.

Initiative is something that doesn't come easy. Often it is hard to find the time to study and partake in the extracurricular activities that so many of us do. But now that we've finished all of our high school requirements, it is time that we start to look toward the responsibilities and challenges that we are going to face.

Wherever we go from here, college, work, travel, etc., we all are going to have more opportunities and freedoms. A high school diploma is a valuable possession, and one that we all put long hours into receiving. Those hours were not in vain because now there are doors open to us, and if we are willing to walk in, we will be able to pursue many different and exciting prospects. With these opportunities however, comes additional responsibilities. One of the most important of these responsibilities is our civic obligation to vote.

Our age group has gained notoriety throughout the years for feeling invincible and immune from trouble. Thinking about the political issues of our time such as, the lack of funds for Social Security, human rights violations throughout the world, or unfortunate cost-cutting measures that are holding doctors back from practicing medicine the way they feel is most appropriate, is not uplifting, and frequently our ears close to the news. Too often, this leads to political disillusionment. Increasingly, people say, "one vote doesn't matter, or "there are no good candidates" or "I simply don't care." However, this is no excuse to stay out of the process. While it may seem difficult at first to make an impact, with a little effort, and organization, anybody can make a difference.

In my own life, I have seen it happen. As far back as I can remember, I have helped with stuffing envelopes for my congressmen or helped people register to vote. In fifth grade I even wrote the column for our class newspaper about the 1988 presidential election. In working with the Palo Alto Youth Council over the past two years, I have seen government work. From getting a teen center started to repealing the curfew, I saw that with a little effort things can be accomplished. This year I worked hard on a couple of local political campaigns. Joining a campaign is a great way to get an in-depth understanding of what the issues are. I learned things about local issues such as how the county appropriates the $2 billion county budget, much of it with increasingly smaller amounts in federal funds, that I had no way of knowing before.

As we enter college, when possibilities are endless, it becomes time for us to realize that there is more to life than school. Some of the most important things happen out of the classroom and staying informed with the world around you is the most important thing you can do.

Now is the perfect time to start becoming active in how things are done in our communities. It is often said that if you don't vote then you have no legitimate complaint about the problems of our society, and that statement has much validity. Even if one vote is not enough to sway an election, our whole generation's vote is enough to really make a lasting difference.

As our countries newest voters, it is imperative that we not just voice an opinion, but voice an intelligent opinion. Democracy, which has been our country's backbone for generations, thrives best with an informed public. It is our responsibility to understand and keep pace with unprecedented discoveries in medicine and technology. There will be new methods of teaching school and we, and our children will be the product of these developments. With changes happening as fast as they are, just a few years ago we used a typewriter for our college applications, now they can be submitted on a floppy disk and in a year or two they will be able to be sent online, it is more important than ever to stay current with the latest news. Keeping informed with science and technology is just as important as keeping up with political activities.

So this is the challenge that I want to give to my classmates, the class of 1996 at Gunn High School. I want us to take pride in our community, country and our generation. It will be up to us to shape our country's future and the only way we can assure that we do it to our satisfaction is to study, keep abreast of the swift moving developments that lie in our coming years and, most importantly, go to the polls and vote. It requires a strong will and initiative to lead the way, but I know that we are capable.

Jacob Ballon, a Palo Alto resident, is a freshman at UCLA.

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