Rubbin’ elbows with Vice President Joe Biden

Yep. That picture right there? That’s me with Vice President Joe Biden, who, if you must know, is the most charming man I have ever met, despite his lackluster public speaking skills. He told me I have a “nice smile.” *swoon*

His speech was actually pretty terrific and very informative…and kind of weird because it was at my High School. I wrote a piece for The Gazette about the student opinion, and here it is…

What do iPods, Birkenstocks and Vice President Joe Biden have in common?

People ages 18-29, that’s what.

Last November record numbers of students voted to elect Obama and his new administration and their pride in a job well done was more than evident at the Vice President’s speech Thursday at Shenedehowa High School. The atmosphere seemed electric with anticipation and students tossed “are you excited” back and forth in line as they waited to go through security.

“This is a once in a life time opportunity,” Jackie Bonk said. Bonk is a 15 year old from Shenendehowa who will be a junior in the fall. “I wish I could have voted in the last election, but I wasn’t old enough,” she said. “I would have definitely voted for Obama.” Biden’s speech drew students from middle school up through college.

Bonk waited for 2 hours in the rain on Wednesday to get her ticket to see the Vice President and she said she can’t wait to vote in the next election when she will be eligible. “We really can make a difference,” Bonk said as she anxiously eyed the line as it started moving through security. “I can’t wait to be more active.”

Today’s youth, a demographic I am proud to be a part of, is more active in politics than ever before. Politics are no longer about Senators and Congressmen in perfectly tailored suits calling the shots, they’re about grassroots movements spearheaded by kids my age, kids in college.

When I’m not interning at The Gazette, I’m at school at the University at Buffalo where there are a handful of student organizations dedicated and active in local, national and world politics. I have friends at Siena College, UAlbany as well as a number of other area and out-of-state colleges that tell me that the youth political movement is alive and well at their schools, too.

Kathleen Milligan, a former Shenendehowa High School student, senior at SUNY Geneseo, and summer intern with the National Organization for Women, is just one of the people I know who encapsulates this youth movement for governmental change. Milligan has always been passionate about politics and has never been afraid to voice her opinions. I’ve seen her at various political rallies in the area including one more recently on marriage equality. She said there are a lot of social activist groups on the SUNY Geneseo campus and the number keeps growing.

This new youth movement has become more and more apparent since the 2008 election where Barack Obama was named the next President of the United States. People ages 18 to 29 turned out to vote in record numbers. Just after the election MSNBC reported that 24 million young people voted in this election up from 2.4 million in 2004. Voters preferred President Obama over John McCain by 68 percent to 30 percent. The youth and all their efforts could have quite literally won Obama the presidency, and they were as proud as can be.

When CNN announced Barack Obama as the projected winner in the election the hoard of hundreds of students gathered in the UB Student Union erupted in applause, cheers and tears. One student told me that it was the first time she felt like she had any say in politics and that her future might be okay. She had hope.

Biden’s speech continued to bring hope to the large number of students who attended. Kara Parnett, a senior at SUNY Oneonta said that on her campus there’s a lot of student activist groups which help bring hope for a better future but they pail in comparison to the message of Biden’s speech.

“It made me feel good, like I have a chance of getting a job after college after spending four years working on my degree,” Parnett said. “Trying to get a job after graduation is a scary thought, but I felt better after hearing Biden say he was going to create and maintain jobs.”

I can empathize with her. How am I going to get a job with my English and History degrees in a job market that’s in a major downswing and in an economy that’s making the thought of graduate school seem even more expensive? Biden did provide a lot of food for thought, especially for my age group.

Biden said that New York State is set to receive more money, in the amount of $275 million for further unemployment insurance funds for those who lost their jobs for no fault of their own.

What about those of us coming out of college who will struggle to get jobs that pertain to our degrees?

Governor David Patterson said on Thursday that 215,000 jobs were created in New York from the recovery act. Are some of those for me and my classmates?

Biden said that the Obama administration is “attacking these problems head on” and that the United States will “come out of this recession better than it came into it.”

“It seems to be working in New York so far based on what Biden said,” Parnett said. “I hope it works out for college kids, too.”

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