Before yesterday, voting wasn’t a big deal to me.
I voted in the last two presidential elections, considering the opportunity to let my voice be heard more of a duty to my country than a privilege.
I never considered voting early or filling out an absentee ballot. I just trudged to the polls on Election Day and got in and out as quickly as possible, ready to be done hearing about politics for a while.
I never thought my one vote really made a difference. I felt like a vote for any candidate was just one person’s opinion that wouldn’t matter in the long run.
Then, on Tuesday night, Barack Obama was elected the 44th president of the United States, and everything I thought about voting changed.
I was there when students came pouring out of the Marshall Student Center cheering, laughing and smiling. I heard “Obama” chants and car horns echo through the darkness of campus. I watched from afar as students cried tears of joy.
People literally danced in the streets.
While watching this unfold, I asked a University Police officer if he expected to see students rushing through campus, chanting, cheering and celebrating the election of the first black president in U.S. history.
He looked dumbfounded by the question.
“We didn’t really expect anything,” he said, trying to keep people from blaring their horns while driving through campus. “Normally, it’s quiet after an election.”
Yes, usually it is. But this was no ordinary election — it was our generation making history.
This was the election in which young voters broke the stereotype of being uninterested in the presidential race. More than 21.5 million voters between the ages of 18 and 29 voted, according to cnn.com. Obama’s total of 63 million popular votes is more than any candidate has received in most of our lifetimes.
Obama’s victory proved that, as a country, America is finally ready to forget its ugly past. It wasn’t even 50 years ago that America passed the Civil Rights Act, which finally enforced what America’s founders spoke of when they wrote, “All men are created equal.”
Granted, this election was also historic for the Republicans. Sen. John McCain would have been the first president to be elected from Arizona. His running mate, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, was the first female vice presidential candidate in the history of the Republican Party.
As people lined the streets of Holly Drive, celebrating something we won’t fully appreciate until much later in life, I realized that every vote does mean something. One person can make his or her voice heard, and people shouldn’t take their right to vote for granted.
Seeing Jesse Jackson and Colin Powell weep tears of joy — coupled with the joyous shouts coming from the campus residence halls — showed me how much this election meant to so many people.
Americans didn’t just “vote for change” when they elected the Democratic nominee — they proved that this country has changed.
Not only has this election changed the country — it has changed the way it is perceived.
In an Associated Press report, Nelson Mandela, the first black president of South Africa, said: “Your victory has demonstrated that no person anywhere in the world should not dare to dream of wanting to change the world for a better place.”
Fifty years from now, when this moment in time is reflected upon, it will be nice to say “I was a part of that change.”
Joe Rienzi is a senior majoring in political science.