The idea of the country being unified, sharing a single purpose, and fighting for the common goal of a stronger, more stable America is what motivated me to volunteer for Barack Obama's campaign.
The first time I was inspired by Senator Obama was during his keynote speech at the Democratic Convention four years ago. "We are not a red America, we are not a blue America," he said. "We are the United States of America." And after seeing Obama in person at a primary debate in Ohio last March, I was impressed by his ideas, his authenticity, and his promise to represent all of America.
Even though I've just turned 15, this isn't the first presidential campaign I've been involved in. In 2000, when Vice President Al Gore was running for President, I canvassed door to door with my father in our neighborhood in Shaker Heights, a suburb of Cleveland. Four years later, during John Kerry's campaign, I sat between my two older siblings making calls to ensure that every voter who needed a ride to the polls had one.
But in this election, the tables have turned: It's my parents who are walking next to me, and I'm the one recruiting my siblings and friends to volunteer for Obama.
I can't vote because I'm not 18, and I can't contribute my own money because I'm not yet 16but there's no age restriction on volunteering. That's why, despite a busy school schedule and varsity fall sports, I go once or twice a week for about three hours to canvass, staff phone banks, or help out at events.
Canvassing is my favorite activity. Having someone you've never met before invite you in to sit down and take a rest simply because they know your heart is in the right place is encouraging.
But there's nothing more motivating than discovering that your passion is shared by others who are so different from you. I even draw strength from a door slamming in my face, following the question "How old are you anyway?"
When we take the initiative to get involved, when we decide that we are going to lend our voice to the collective whole, then suddenly the election becomes about much more than just the candidatesit becomes about us. The election becomes about my education, your sister's husband in Iraq, someone's uncle on Wall Street, or the environment. It becomes bigger than each of us alone.
When the history books are written, I'm looking forward to being able to tell my kids that, yes, I volunteered for Barack Obama. By doing so, I also volunteered for myself, for the country, and for our future.
Julia Celeste, 15, is a sophomore at Shaker Heights High School.
In 1954, John McCain graduated from Episcopal High School in Alexandria, Virginiathe same school where I'm now a senior. When Senator McCain addressed our student body last April, I was inspired to volunteer for his campaign. He spoke of integrity, honor, and being part of something greater than yourselfand I took his comments to heart.
After his speech, my friends and I agreed that McCain's strongest attribute is his character. He does more than merely talk about his leadership abilities: McCain has spent his entire adult life honorably serving our country as a Navy officer or in the House or Senate representing Arizona.
Although I've considered myself a Republican since middle school and belong to the Young Republicans Club, I hadn't thought much about volunteering for the McCain campaign. But seeing and hearing him in person made the whole process seem more personal. I realized that I could make a difference in the future of our country.
When school broke for the summer, I called campaign headquarters and asked what I could do to help. Over the summer, the emphasis was on collecting donations and making sure the voters got to know the candidate. The campaign ads you see on TV help us get the word out about McCain's values and his qualifications to be President. But those ads also cost moneyincluding a good chunk of the donations we helped collect.
My appeals for donations were mostly to family members. It was particularly gratifying when people who had never given to a political campaign before gave to the McCain campaign based on my personal appeal.
Local ordinances generally restrict placing campaign signs in public spaces until just before the election. But I signed up enough friends and family to make sure that our neighbors in Silver Spring, Maryland, will know that even in this very blue state, McCain has plenty of support.
In past elections, the political process has been unappealing to many students. But some political experts say this is "the year of the youth vote."
I'm proud to know that I've participated in a process that will determine who will lead our country for the next four years. Politics is a way of life for some of our neighbors here in the suburbs of Washington, D.C. I hope that I stay involved in politics in some capacity for the rest of my life.
We all have the choice of sitting on the sidelines or getting into the game. You can make our team if you make the effort to tryand we expect to win.
Bradley Lockhart, 18, is a senior at Episcopal High School in Alexandria, Va.