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On Voting and Civic Engagement

My Dear Students,

I am writing to you to urge you to register and to exercise proudly your honor and privilege to vote for leaders who represent your interests and share your beliefs.

As a woman who emigrated from her native Dominican Republic at the age of 13, I am the happy and proud president of one of the finest community colleges in Connecticut and in the nation, our beloved Naugatuck Valley Community College.  It has been a journey marked by hard work and opportunity, supported along the way by caring teachers and professors in public and higher education.  I am a believer in the value of public education and above all, in the value of taking full advantage of the rights afforded me as a citizen of this beautiful and generous nation.  

My first thirteen years were spent in a country ruled by a dictatorship; a country where women were not involved, for the most part, in political leadership positions and where voting,  a right granted to women in the 1940’s, was not fully exercised.  Years later, as a young U.S. citizen and mother, I was proud to exercise my right.  I always took my young children with me in the voting booth, to teach them the importance and the value of my vote.    I vote.  I vote because it is my obligation to vote.  I vote because every voice needs to be heard so that we can continue to be a strong and caring nation.

I was blessed to come to the United States in the sixties, a time of change and progress for us, people of color, for women and for all the people of the United States.  I lived to hear Dr. Martin Luther King Jr speak and to have the privilege of having his speeches and writings shape the woman I am today.  I evoke now some words from one of my favorite speeches by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., “Civil Right No. 1:  The Right to Vote”

“Voting is the foundation stone for political action. With it the Negro can eventually vote out of office public officials who bar the doorway to decent housing, public safety and decent integrated education.  It is now obvious that the basic elements so vital to Negro advancement can only be achieved by seeking redress from government at local, state, and federal levels.  To do this the vote is essential.

When the full power of the ballot is available to my people, it will not be exercised merely to advance our cause alone.  We have learned in the course of our freedom struggle that the needs of twenty million Negroes are not truly separable from those of the nearly two hundred million whites and Negroes in America, all of whom will benefit from a color-blind land of opportunity that provides for the nourishment of each man’s body, mind and spirit.  Our vote would place in Congress true representatives of the people who would legislate for the Medicare, housing, schools and jobs required by all men of any color.”  In New York Magazine  (14 March 1965): 26-27 in A Testament of Hope, The Essential Writings and Speeches of Martin Luther King Jr., edited by James M. Washington.          

My dear students, if you have not done so, I urge you to register and to have friends and family register to vote.  More than ever, taking personal responsibility to ensure that you and yours will cast a ballot on November 6th has become imperative.  For it is about power, the power to contribute to the shaping and the fabric of life in this beautiful country.  Statistics show that the young of every ethnicity, and African American and Latinos in general, vote in much smaller numbers than the older mainstream population.  As Dr. King taught us, we all must be heard and must be counted.  Be at the voting booth, exercise your right and be counted, for it is a privilege that was earned by the struggle, suffering and sacrifice of so many who came before you.  This is a responsibility that we cannot walk away from.  Be there!  Silence is not a luxury any of us can afford.

For you and yours I wish a thousand splendid suns and offer many, many thanks.  Mil gracias y bendiciones.

Daisy Cocco De Filippis, Ph.D.
Naugatuck Valley Community College
September 28, 2012

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