What inspires you to vote? [Letter]

July 13, 2014

Dan Rodricks' column "Excuses aside, Maryland voter turnout an embarrassment" (June 25) resonated with me. I did vote in last month's primary election. I am embarrassed for people who are entitled to vote but did not and am saddened by the lackluster turnout in the primary elections in Maryland. I want to thank Mr. Rodricks for sounding the proverbial wake-up call. I feel compelled to acknowledge my appreciation for people and circumstances that taught me to value and appreciate my right to vote.

First and most importantly, there are my parents, Pat and Ned Ward, who modeled good citizenship. They made informed voting choices: newspapers, magazines and books were read studiously; news programs were watched with attention. (At 86, my father is still one of the biggest "news junkies" around.) My parents discussed politics and government with us. They would not hesitate to campaign for and support a position or candidate they believed in, including the unpopular position or underdog candidate (my mother supported Shirley Chisholm). My siblings and I helped with mailing projects for Third District Citizens for Good Government, a non-partisan group in Baltimore City, that took over our dining room and left no doubt: citizen involvement was very important.

Then there is my high school education at the Institute of Notre Dame (IND) high school in Baltimore. The required courses for juniors included U.S. History, American Literature and American Music. The School Sisters of Notre Dame (SSND's) who founded and run IND were ahead of their time with this cross curricular approach. It fostered lively discussions about the founding of our democracy, development of our government, and progression of voting rights to ensure every citizen's voice can be heard. This was my first realization of the political influences in literature and music; everyday life and everyday people; my life, my people, me! It was truly heady stuff, taking all this in at 17. In a year, I would be 18: an adult with the right to vote. There were important things to know; very important choices to make.

Lastly, there is the story of Sra. Cabrisses, my Spanish teacher my junior year of high school. Our country's bicentennial in 1976 coincided with my eye-opening junior year. Any class might have a bicentennial sidebar on any given day, which was how we came to know a bit about Sra. Cabrisses. She and her family had emigrated (fled is perhaps a better word) to the U.S. from Cuba. I had never seen a teacher show so much emotion or heard a teacher share such personal difficulties before. She told of the heartbreak of leaving her home, everything she knew and loved, because of communism, and of coming to the U.S., with a promise of democracy. As she did, her eyes welled up with tears and she had difficulty speaking. With genuine passion, she incited us to enjoy and cherish our freedoms and rights and to never take them for granted. I still get goose bumps when I remember that day's lessons. It made a huge, positive impact.

Sheila Ward Siebert

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