With more than 100 students crowded around the television, mouths dropping open, eyes fixated on the single small screen, one would imagine we were watching the Super Bowl or the season finale of House or Lost, not two men vying to be the next president of the United States.
I realized that although I had graduated from a high school where my peers were largely apathetic about politics, at Grinnell students truly cared. It was clear, from the immense amount of time students spent to get out the vote to the popularity of debate-watching parties. Not only did they care, but also they were ready to make a tangible change. Not all students agree about political issues, of course, and while my story has a definite blue tinge, the high level of commitment holds true for Grinnellians of all stripes.
The change started with each individual vote. With more than 900 Grinnell students registered to vote in Iowa, we had the power to literally make the difference in the local representative race between incumbent Eric Palmer and Danny Carroll. Grinnell immersed itself in Iowa politics; a fellow student managed Palmer’s campaign and another recent alum headed up the local democratic chapter for Obama.
Under the leadership of both these campaign managers as well as the heads of the Campus Democrats, dozens of us went dorm-to-dorm and door-to-door getting out the vote. Even Ashton Kutcher and Demi Moore showed up on campus to help. Getting out the vote, I met not only celebrities, but also a significant portion of the student body and several townspeople.
Being from a big city, I found it enlightening to get to know the small community of Grinnell. I was able to learn about the issues that were important to the townspeople and even meet several local politicians, including the governor of Iowa. From this experience, I started to see not only the College, but also the town as my home too.
Nov. 4, 2008, had seemed forever a part of the distant future, yet all of a sudden, it was here. One word would describe election night: crazy. Most of the student body was gathered around television sets, with as many as could fit jammed into the student center watching the results on a large screen.
With the announcement of Obama’s win came an eruption of emotion. Cheers echoed around campus as we ran around hugging our friends and set off fireworks, simply giddy with happiness.
The emotions deepened as the true implication of what had just happened began to sink in. As we crowded around the televisions again to watch Obama’s acceptance speech, I looked around to see tears running down my friends’ faces. We clutched each other, hardly comprehending our new reality.
For those of us who had been working on the campaigns, the night brought specific rewards. The two local counties we had been working in (Poweshiek and Jasper) went blue for Obama, and our local representative, Eric Palmer, won by more than 1,400 votes. Our work truly had paid off.
Whether through politics, or through social justice, or campus government, students at Grinnell truly care about the world around them and they take significant steps to try and change it for the better.
Erica Seltzer-Schultz ’12 is undeclared and from Minneapolis, Minnesota.