Forty-five years ago, the 26th Amendment was signed giving 18-year-olds the right to vote. To honor that significant milestone, Rock the Vote, a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization aimed at getting young people out to the polls, created signature programming around the date of March 23rd and called it Democracy Day. Longwood University has been working to develop a partnership with Rock the Vote for events this fall, and so Democracy Day was a great opportunity for Longwood to deploy engagement activities around a tested concept.

The team I work with at Longwood has been searching for an exciting opportunity to kickoff our “Debate Season;” the period of time leading up to hosting the Vice Presidential Debate on October 4th. This spring event was a chance to stretch out our programming legs, so to speak, and to celebrate the central themes surrounding our nation’s current political discourse.

photo credit: Andrea Dailey, Longwood University

photo credit: Andrea Dailey, Longwood University

Programming for the day was centered around two core activities: a “Democracy Rally,” hosted by the Student Government Association. This event was held on Longwood’s primary student thoroughfare around lunchtime. Students registered to vote online, signed a pledge banner, and were provided information about absentee voting. Simultaneously, students from the Politics Club traveled to the county high school and helped students there register to vote.

In addition, Longwood brought in Reggie Love, former captain of Duke University men’s basketball national championship team in 2001 and longtime personal assistant to President Obama, to campus. Reggie spent the afternoon speaking with students about careers on Capitol Hill, on campaigns, and gave a keynote address called “My Presidential Education” which we live streamed. Reggie also spoke to a smaller group of students that have volunteered to help with the Vice Presidential Debate, and were offered autographed copies of his book.

On the whole, Democracy Day events at Longwood were a success. Hundreds of students participated in the rally and Reggie’s events. For me personally, it was a rewarding experience to work to bring Reggie to campus and to gain a broader understanding of student engagement potential around themes central to the Vice Presidential Debate.

We learned a lot, I think, and there’s always more that could have been done to engage and bring out crowds. Evaluating success around programming without institutional history is somewhat difficult. Did we register to vote all unregistered students? Nope. Was there standing room only at Reggie’s talk? No sir. Ultimately though, we were successful in starting the conversation we hoped to begin and stimulate over the next six months and beyond.