When I first started as opinion editor at the North Wind, I was nervous. I’ve always been an opinionated person, which is the reason I applied for the position in the first place, but having to write a 600 word column every week terrified me. But as I write this, my last official column as opinion editor, I’m wondering how I’ll be able to go a week without speaking my mind via this newspaper. I’m also wondering why more students don’t take advantage of the fact that they too can use this as a forum to express their First Amendment rights.
There was a time when I understood why people didn’t take young adults seriously. In 2004, The New Millennium Young Voters Project surveyed 18-21 year olds who didn’t vote. They asked them why, and received a number of embarrassing answers. “I was too busy,” or “Registration is too complicated” were included, but my personal favorite was, “You don’t get free stuff.” At the time I was 16 years old, waiting for the day my vote counted and my voice mattered.
Four years later, a study done by the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement showed that more than 6.5 million people under the age of 30 participated in the 2008 primaries and caucuses. This increase in young adult voters showed our elders that we weren’t a generation of apathy, but rather a force to be reckoned with.
While our indifference on a national level has improved, the attitudes of students on NMU’s campus remain relatively the same. This semester, the only time I’ve heard any students who weren’t a part of our student government speak out was when it came to parking tickets. Complaints could be heard all over campus, but only because it involved a college student’s most precious resource: money.
Associated Students of NMU (ASNMU) holds open meetings every week, where they talk about their agenda and the university issues they are most concerned with. Students rarely attend to find out what’s going on around them or lend their two cents on pertinent issues. According to North Wind coverage of the ASNMU elections last year, only about 1,500 of the 9,347 students at NMU cast their presidential vote. Sure, we can rally up and vote for the person who is going to run our nation, but when it comes to the person who will be representing us directly, we fail to do so.
Your opinion doesn’t only matter if it counts for a vote, and your voice isn’t only important if used to rouse a nation. Rousing the campus of NMU and the outside community is plenty. Any student can write for the North Wind, and the more student voices in this newspaper, the better. Any student can also run for ASNMU and, as stated above, any student can attend the meetings and speak their part.
There are a number of forums at this university for students to say what they want to say, and those forums need to be taken advantage of. If NMU students want people to listen, they need to start talking, and if they want things to be changed, they need to take initiative.
I will be graduating in May, and when I venture out into the real world the most valuable resources I’ll be taking with me were learned during this column writing process. Among other things, I’ve learned that even if it’s something out of my control, I still have the right to say what I think.
As Americans we are given the right to free speech, a luxury people living in other countries may not have. As students we are given the right to an education, something people in other parts of the world may never get. If the two are combined, it will not only make our generation stronger, but our entire student body as well.