Today is my graduversary, or millennial speak for my graduation anniversary. Exactly one year ago today, I woke up  to the traditional sound of bagpipes.* Exactly one year ago today, I proudly marched with my roommates and many of my good friends into Harvard Yard. Exactly one year ago today, I was surrounded by the sound of cheers, words of encouragement, and a glorious cacophony of sound–the product of many sleep deprived graduates, multiple bagpipers, and a jazz band. Exactly one year ago today, I was finally able to walk across a stage and proudly hold my bachelor’s diploma–something that I had worked hard to achieve for four years. It’s all so hard to believe.

Even now it’s still hard for me to process. I’ve commenced. I’ve begun a new journey. I’ve survived as a “real” person for a year. I haven’t even burned down my kitchen! And while I have enjoyed embracing the future, I’d like to take a moment, on this arbitrary yet special day, to reminisce a bit about the past.

The funny thing about my commencement was that nothing turned out the way I expected it to. It rained profusely in the days leading up to commencement. In fact, it was so cold that I had to open a few of my bulging suitcases to dig out some of my winter clothing. I even got a sinus infection, and, to top it all off, later found out that I was allergic to the antibiotics that I had been given.

And yet there were many ways in which my graduation was perfect. I had a wonderful time with my family–the people who supported me and made it possible for me to even dream of going to Harvard. I was able to show them part of my world, the world that they had helped given me access to, to show them the places and people that I had discovered, the people and things that I loved. At the same time, I was able to draw my friends close. To celebrate with them. To remember the last four years, and to feel like I was and am a part of an incredible community. And while I felt a bit sad at the time, to be leaving behind so many great people and things, I found it helpful to remember that it was a beginning. That commencement at its core means to start something new.

And start something new I have! I embarked on a new chapter of life in a totally new country. I’ve learned a lot about myself and gained a morsel or two of insight as to what I want in my future, but, most importantly, I’ve been able to keep in touch with most of my closest friends. So although I still feel a pang of envy for this year’s graduating class, I’m proud to say that I’m very happy with the new chapter that I’ve written since commencement. Congratulations to the class of 2015, and may you all be as happy with your new beginnings as I am with mine.

*Why this is a Harvard commencement tradition is still a mystery to me.

2014-05-29 06.18.11  2014-05-29 07.22.36  2014-05-29 09.45.07

Politics and Social Science

I was invited early on in the week to guest teach in a Politics and Social Science class. While I readily agreed to teach the class, I have to admit that I was a bit apprehensive considering the small disaster my last guest lecture was. This time, I consulted with my main co-teacher at Byåsen and was told that the students I would be working with would have a pretty good grasp of English. Still, just to be safe, I made sure my lecture was on the simpler side, which I think helped make the lesson a success.

I was asked to teach about voting in the United States and started out by covering some very basic voting qualifications:

  • Be a US citizen (in Norway if you are allowed to vote in regional elections, municipal elections, and stand as a municipal candidate as long as you have been a legal resident for at least three years)
  • At least 18 years of age on election day (the same policy applies in Norway)
  • A resident of the state in which you register (not applicable)
  • Not currently serving a prison term (felons are allowed to vote in Norway)
  • Not currently on parole or other post-release supervision (felons are allowed to vote in Norway)

After covering these basics, I explained that in the United States you need to register to vote–something that is not required in Norway.

Then I went on to explain the political parties. Again, my students thought that the Republicans were a bit strange and had a much easier time understanding the Democrats.

From there I talked a bit about what Americans vote on in elections. I didn’t get too involved when explaining presidential voting since I was pretty sure explaining the electoral college would get too confusing for the students. Next, I talked a bit about what sorts of issues Americans vote on. In order to engage my students a bit more I showed them a commercial for this November’s midterm elections. Most of the students that I’ve worked with are very very quiet so I was hoping that showing these students a celebrity studded commercial might make them a bit more talkative:

Thankfully my strategy worked! They liked watching Lil Jon transform his hit song “Turn Down for What” into a song about voting, and they had fun identifying some of the other people that appeared in the video. The video also gave them a really good idea of ballot issues. The commercial is almost overwhelming in the number of topics that it raises, and from a teaching perspective it meant that none of my students had a problem raising their hands to answer my question “What are some of the things Americans vote on?”

After that I talked a bit about how despite star laden commercials and encouragement to “Rock the Vote,” the United States experienced its lowest voter turnout in 72 years this past midterm election. The number is pretty grim at 36.6%. Because I didn’t want to leave my students with the idea that most Americans are wholly indifferent to politics, I spent some time explaining some theories on why voting rates in the United States are low. Some of the most popular theories are:

  • Voter Registration. The United States is one of the few democracies that requires voter registration in order to vote.
  • Tuesday Voting. Voting on Tuesday made a lot more sense when America was a predominantly agricultural society. Because people lived so far apart most voters would travel into town from long distances. This meant that having voting on Tuesday allowed eligible voters to spend Monday traveling into town before voting on Tuesday. Weekend voting wasn’t a practical option at the time because citizens were going to church on Sunday. Clearly the  Tuesday voting system doesn’t make much sense in a modern day context, but we have yet to catch up with the times.
  • Felon Voting. Again, the United States is one of the few democracies that does not allow current (and in some cases former) prisoners to vote, disenfranchising a significant number of the population.

If you look at the first two reasons you can see that they have a lot to do with convenience. In fact, studies on this last midterm election show that states that allow for mail in voting or early voting have high voter participation rates. But making voting easier won’t necessarily solve America’s participation problem. In fact, even though some states have made it more convenient for their residents to vote, no state had a voter participation rate higher than 60% in this year’s midterms.

After this I talked very briefly about how the United States has implemented different types of voting restrictions over time. I decided to show them part of another video, this time one showing current Harvard students taking and failing Louisiana’s 1964 literacy test. Literacy tests were designed to disenfranchise different groups of people because they were almost impossible to pass:

If you want to learn a bit more about the test you can go to the YouTube page and read more under the video’s description.

I then wrapped up by talking about modern day voting restrictions. Currently many people in the United States are talking about photo identification laws. These laws require photo ID in order to vote in certain states, and they currently disenfranchise an estimated 23 million voting aged Americans (approximately 11% of Americans).

After that I was done lecturing and it was time for an activity. I provided my students with a list of potential 2016 presidential candidates and groups of two were supposed to report on a candidate to the rest of the class. Unsurprisingly, Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden were the first candidates that my students wanted to present on. I did however stop them from only reporting on Democratic candidates and made some of them look up Republicans. While not all of the students were enthused about their candidates (none of them liked the Republicans) it was fun walking around and helping them understand what these candidates believed in and explaining political terms such as “polling” and “pro-choice”.