I remember hearing, right before graduating from high school, that more people had voted in the May 2006 American Idol finale than in the November 2004 U.S. presidential election. I couldn’t help laughing at the absurdity of being part of a population that could exhibit such an embarrassing inclination (not that I find fault with American Idol – although I question the American public that provided for the unfortunate triumph of Taylor Hicks). Having just reached voting age several months earlier, however, I was able to distinguish myself and my classmates from those who so poorly exercise their right to vote as we received our diplomas and listened to commencement speeches about how it was our time to go out and change the world.

Then I got to college. Everyone turned 18 and lived in the capital and walked through Red Square, where a myriad of student groups handed out flyers advocating for pro-life legislature or a Democratic president. And everybody, myself included, wanted to go abroad to Africa or South America and save the world.

A recent article in Time magazine entitled “Why Young Voters Care Again” examined the candidates’ growing ranks of young supporters (under 30 years of age) who have been assembled in endorsement of one candidate or the other. Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) has proven to be particularly strong in this area. The article’s author, David Von Drehle, presents Obama’s campaign as a revolutionizing youth movement. “His is the language of possibility,” Drehle writes, “which is the native tongue of the young.”

The sentiment of possibility of change and making a difference is what drives all of the activity in Red Square Monday through Friday (and sometimes at 4 a.m. if members of the Facebook group Work Hard Play Hard – GU Students for Stopping the Madness are protesting the alcohol policy). It is the catalyst behind all of the applications to the Peace Corps and Teach For America submitted by optimistic young do-gooders.

In the midst of presidential primary elections, where all forces are pushing for the ever-elusive “change,” I feel forced to consider the idea that this notion of “possibility” can sometimes be just as much a roadblock as it is an inspiration. The allure of a candidate like Obama is in some ways so windswept that youths become charged up on pure emotion like kids on a sugar high, forgetting that they haven’t ingested enough substance for their energy to be sustained. That is not to say that the meat and potatoes of the issues aren’t present, or that these fired up students don’t appreciate or understand the details, but simply that the pomp and circumstance may cause them to forget the necessity of considering them – the necessity of comprehensive and educated awareness.

The inquiry that I feel compelled to make, therefore, ponders the necessity of such a haphazard campaign for the promotion of a cause. What does it take to bring a college student to the polls on Election Day, or to get them advocating for action against a global human rights injustice? How do we, as America’s youth, prioritize such issues? Perhaps it takes a common enemy, one that the American youth found in Sudan or Iraq, or perhaps personal interest, as in the presidential primary election where we live amongst the issues at hand.

The desire of those students in Red Square to change the world, however, must start with an increased awareness of past wrongs and a commitment to fixing the mistakes our parents made. Changing the world must begin with accepting responsibility for our past mistakes. For example, the number of students who are educated about the detrimental and lasting effects of the United States’ spraying of Agent Orange during the Vietnam War is disturbingly diminutive. During the 1960s and 1970s, American forces released a substance that they were unaware was a destructive dioxin into the forests of Vietnam, which led to expensive eradication efforts and danger to the Vietnamese people and their environment. Only recently, explains the Washington, D.C.-based Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting, has the United States begun to rectify its error, stating that “a new era of cooperation between the United States and Vietnam has finally led to a shift from finger-pointing to problem solving.”

Part of giving back to the community and the world is about responsibility and about passion where passion is due. Our generation, on deck for the forefront, has a chance to correct and avoid the mistakes that have been made, such as that which was made in Vietnam.

So as we vote for the next president, it is important that we remember to vote not just for the energy-feeder, but also for the candidate with the intelligence and capability to direct this energy toward development that will raise the quality of the world. The Cow Bank Project, which raises money to buy cows to help repair the demolished agricultural economy of Vietnam, exemplifies the kind of partnership between countries that can lead to true, raw, tangible change. It is a tangible way in which students can make amends for America’s past mistakes. It reminds us that it’s okay to care about the specifics. Examine the details because we do have the power to change more than just our attitudes.

Christine Coscia is a sophomore in the College and a member of the Cow Bank Project.

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