Don’t just be a leader, create the next generation of leaders.
For many UT Austin students, November will mark the first time they vote in a presidential election. Today, students will be lined up outside the Flawn Academic Center to cast a ballot that will determine the course of our nation—no pressure for you first-time voters.
As a recent UT grad and current 11th grade English teacher in South Dakota, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about this election and how it will be retold in my students’ history books. Fifty years from now, we will look back on this time—the segregation, the racism, the xenophobia, the inequity—and we will tell our children, and our children’s children, that we lived it.
What we say to them next is up to us. And that is why I decided to become a teacher.
As a senior at UT, I kept busy finishing my government degree and serving as vice president of Pi Sigma Alpha, as a fellow at the Clements Center for National Security, and as an intern at the Executive Office of the President in Washington, D.C. Clearly, a career in government was calling my name. While in D.C., I attended an education policy panel hosted by former teachers and current policymakers. They explained how many of the people who write the bills affecting millions of students have little to no classroom teaching experience. How could I plan to build impactful policy if I’ve never worked in the field? If I was going to be part of shaping our nation’s political future, I first needed to understand inequity up-close and make an immediate impact.
As a teacher, I’ve never been more convinced that the future of our country lies squarely in my classroom. Every day that I teach, I grow more convicted of my students’ boundless potential and am eager for the day when they’re charting the path of our country. Teaching in South Dakota, just south of the Standing Rock Indian Reservation, has afforded me the chance to see my students’ activism and awareness firsthand. Watching their passion as they protested against the Dakota Access Pipeline alongside their community confirmed that our future truly lies in the hands of our students. I couldn’t have been prouder as I opened The New York Times and saw one of my students featured for his activism. It’s these moments that turn my previous hope into my current conviction.
I believe there will be a day when my students are the ones running our government. I know there will be a day when the Time 100 list includes the names of my students. But we have to be part of the generation making that possible.
This November, we must ensure our country’s moral arc continues bending towards justice for all. We can do that by showing our students real-world examples of leaders who look and sound like them — thanks, Obama. And secondly, we must empower our children to become the next generation of leaders.
So when we think about how this election will unfold, we have two choices: We can tell the next generation that we lived it, but didn’t have the courage to disrupt the systems and structures that sustain inequality and injustice. Or we can tell them that we lived it, and changed it.
As you head into your polling place, consider how you’ll make your impact after graduation. I ask you to think beyond yourself. Don’t just be a leader. Let’s create the next generation of leaders.
Cyrus Huncharek is a 2016 UT graduate and Teach For America-South Dakota corps member. He teaches 11th grade English at Little Wound School.