Students Learn Why Their Vote Matters

Students Learn Why Their Vote MattersMichael BennettCleveland Leadership Center

The upcoming Republican National Convention in Cleveland created a platform for nearly 325 students from 17 Cuyahoga County high schools to get excited about what the July convention means for Cleveland, learn about the importance of voting, and develop and vote on their own political platforms.

“It was great to get an inside view as to how Cleveland got the convention after trying so many years, and interesting to see how the convention will bring new breath to Cleveland not only in the short term but for the long term,” said James Abbott, a senior at University School who attended one of the two events held at the Global Center for Health Innovation.

“Your Vote Matters: The Republican National Convention and what it means for CLE” was conceived and implemented by Cleveland Leadership Center and supported by the Cleveland 2016 Host Committee, the nonpartisan, nonprofit organization coordinating local arrangements and promoting Northeast Ohio. Additional support was provided by Cleveland Clinic, Bernie Moreno Companies and Dominion.

About 175 students participated in the April 14, 2016, event from nine high schools: Jane Addams Business Careers Center, Cuyahoga Falls High School, Gilmour Academy, Lincoln-West High School, Mayfield High School, Northeast Ohio College Preparatory School, St. Edward High School, University School and Westlake High School.

The April 27 event drew about 125 students from seven high schools: Andrews Osborne Academy, Berea-Midpark High School, Euclid High School, Hawken School, JFK Eagle Academy, New Tech East, Saint Joseph Academy and Solon High School.

The Global Center for Health Innovation came alive with excitement both days as students and educators began arriving at 8:00 a.m. By the time they left at 2:30 p.m., they had been welcomed by City of Cleveland Mayor Frank G. Jackson and Cuyahoga County Executive Armond Budish, toured where media will set up workspaces in the Huntington Cleveland Convention Center, and learned how producers will link to reporters at Quicken Loans Arena through dark fiber technology.

In addition, the students gained insights on the city’s role in convention preparation, were cautioned by media pros to seek varying perspectives in the “digital Wild West,” and were briefed on security issues by U.S. Secret Service agents.

The program, open to high school students across Northeast Ohio, was also created to prepare millennials to be civic leaders and appreciate the importance of voting. Millennials now make up the largest segment of the population, but only about one in five people ages 18 to 29 voted in the 2014 elections, according to CIRCLE, a Tufts University center that researches civic and political engagement of youth. A majority of students at the event said they would vote as soon as they are able.

Cathy Bajic, Community Outreach Coordinator for the Cuyahoga County Board of Elections, invited the students to write why they would vote and then share their responses. Among the reasons: “To have a voice in our government,” “To make a difference,” “Because we need better leaders,” “I want to be an active participant in my life” and “I don’t want to live in a world of environmental crisis, violence and injustice. Someone has to DO something.” Bajic described the process for early voting, especially if students will be away at college, and many students took voter registration forms she supplied.

The students also crafted political platforms looking at issues that mattered most to them. The process was facilitated by educators from The Ray C. Bliss Institute of Applied Politics at the University of Akron. The planks they developed in small groups addressed everything from education (eliminating Common Core and more financial aid) to global warming (more renewable resources) to medical marijuana, economic issues (tax reform, minimum wage and college aid), and immigration (“anyone who wants to immigrate must do so legally”).

For more details about the event, including a copy of the program handout listing speakers and links to media coverage, visit the Leadership Center’s Your Vote web page.

Additional sessions may be held as demand and funding allow. Contact event organizer Joe Cicero, CLC Special Projects, at or (440) 343-7503.

Story and photos provided by Cleveland Leadership Center