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Letter to the Editor: Voting important to affecting future leaders

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For many Ohio State students, November will mark the first time they cast a ballot in a presidential election. Tomorrow, students will be lined up outside the Ohio Union or the Newman Center, where I proudly cast my first ballot, to pull a lever that will determine the course of our nation. No pressure for you first-time voters.

As a political science and communication major at Ohio State, I spent a lot of time arguing politics at USG meetings, Mock Trial practices and Alpha Chi Omega chapter dinners. I always believed that educational equity and social equality were possible. In many ways, OSU is a microcosm of the nation’s political beliefs, and I was lucky to have my ideas challenged by Republicans and Democrats alike.

In many other ways, however, the makeup of OSU fails to reflect the nation. On my first day as a team member at Boys & Girls Clubs of Columbus, just a few miles from campus, I saw how the lives of my tutoring students looked so vastly different the lives of those in the student section of Ohio Stadium. Through my undergraduate experiences, I learned that if I was going to be part of shaping our nation’s political future, I first needed to understand the issues up-close and to make an immediate impact.

Now that I’m a teacher in Providence, Rhode Island, I realize the future of our country lies squarely in my classroom. The vast majority of my students were not born in the United States, hailing instead from countries like the Dominican Republic, Mexico, Haití, Guatemala, Tanzania and El Salvador. My students are watching the news and political debates, increasingly fearful that the country they love wants them gone. I am constantly fielding anxious questions from students convinced they will be deported, regardless of whether they are legally in the country.

I am not an expert in the struggles my students face or the ways in which this upcoming election will impact them, so I asked one of my most engaged and ambitious students, Francois, for his thoughts on the upcoming election. Although he’s a few years away from voting, I was blown away to hear Francois tell me that he and his friends talk frequently about the issues of the day: the war in Syria, Black Lives Matter protests and of course the presidential candidates. When I asked him what he’s looking for in a candidate, his answer came easily: “We need role models we are proud to look up to, and leaders who will keep our best interests in mind.”

As a history teacher, I couldn’t be more proud. And as a citizen, I know the future of our country is in great hands. Lucky for us, Francois might have the opportunity to make change even sooner than expected — he’s currently running for freshman class president.

When I left OSU, I was excited to join a coalition of change agents making an impact in the classroom. Teach For America has given me the opportunity to lead by example and to immediately impact hundreds of students. Every day I’m privileged to work alongside my students and to listen to their beliefs, opinions and brilliant stories. I plan to dedicate my career to giving my students the power and platform to express those beliefs, whether I’m in a school or the Senate.

So as you head into your polling place, and as you consider how you’ll make your impact after graduation, I ask you to think beyond yourself.

Don’t just be a leader. Let’s create the next generation of leaders.

Rachel Cohen
2014 OSU graduate
Teach For America-Rhode Island corps member

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