In Tuesday's Election Day Chapel, Dean Healy reflected on what Election Day means to him.
Today is a special day for me. Election Day always has been filled with great memories. One of the earliest and few memories I have of my parents working together involve painting and building yard signs for my father’s town council races in upstate New York. Then there was always the excitement of Election Day itself. My parents would let me go to the polls with them and vote on their behalf. As you can imagine at four years old, pulling a lever next to your father’s name was exciting. Then there was the excitement of voting in a presidential election for the first time. The 2000 primary was the first time I was able to vote for a presidential candidate, made even better by the fact it was for someone who became a real political hero for me and with whom I eventually spent time.
By now I have had the privilege of voting for more candidates than I can remember, even for myself in a town council race. I challenge any of the teachers listening to recall every House, Senate, governor and presidential candidate they have voted for. I can’t recall beyond presidential elections.
Which is why what Margaret Ann read to us has today in this Election Day chapel has stayed with me so much – one line in particular: “He changes times and seasons and deposes kings and sets up kings.” Honestly at this point I hear that line to the tone of Hamilton’s “Oceans Rise and Empire’s Fall.” I will spare you from me singing it. If I were re-writing that for today, I would make the next line read, “…and yet the kingdom persists and evolves.”
America has evolved and continues to evolve, even if it doesn’t feel that way at times, and as such so has our American democracy. Is it perfect, no it is not?
However, as presidents have come and presidents have gone, not at the hand of God but at that the hands of voters, our democracy has evolved and persisted. First only white males could vote, then that right was expended to black males and then to women. We were not a perfect democracy at our birth, we are not now, nor ever will be, but we will continue to evolve and persist.
Along the way we have seen barriers put in place to keep people from voting but our democracy, over the long arc has moved forward. No matter what the obstacle – be it political strife, war, or pandemic, our American democracy has found a way forward. Take this year for example. We have seen record numbers of early votes and mail-in ballots as people worried COVID-19 would quarantine the right to vote. The people have found a way, they always do.
No matter the outcome, we will find a way forward. It might not feel like it in the moment, but we will and despite what you hear, I believe it will be either a peaceful transition of power as we’ve experienced 44 times before, or a peaceful continuation. There might be protests, that is as American as apple pie, but we won’t see tanks storming the White House to install or remove a president. Despite what some might lead you to believe, that has not, nor ever will be a tenant of our democracy. Take pride in that fact, and take pride that people still are proud off their right to vote.
A proud Canadian through and through, you heard the pride in Dean Owen’s voice yesterday when she shared her experience of voting for the first time in the U.S. Many new 18-year-olds get to experience that sense of pride as well this year. That same pride I first felt years ago. What I have learned though, that as much as I might want a candidate to win, that vote does not define me. No matter who I voted for this year, I am not Joe Biden or Donald Trump. There are candidates I look back and wish I had voted for and some I wish I had not, call it the evolution of my own personal democracy. Those votes and that support does not define me, no more than who you support or vote for defines you. After all none of you are Joe Biden or Donald Trump. You are still you own person, with your own voice and eventually your own vote in this democracy. To our international students, democratic elections have become the mainstay of governments in the world -- take pride in voting at home or engaging in our political process in ways other than voting while you are here. To our current American students, take pride in the fact that above all else, four years from now each one of you will be able to vote for president again and help this democracy continue to evolve.