Faculty & Staff

Exploring Citizenship Series- Citizenship by Doing

As part of the ICC Library’s 2015 One Book, One College Program and this year’s selection, March: Book One by John Lewis, the Library is exploring citizenship and what it means to individuals.

The following is an essay written by Michelle Nielsen Ott. Like all submissions to this essay campaign, the views presented are those of the authors and not necessarily of Illinois Central College. If you are interested in being a contributor, please contact Michelle Nielsen Ott.

Citizenship is a verb.  I know that technically it is a noun, but citizenship requires action. Citizenship may be something I received when I was born, but it is something that I now live out.

I grew up in an active family. We got involved in our communities.  My dad was in Lion’s Club.  My mom was in Women’s Club and the PTA.  Both my parents were presidents of these organizations at some point. Growing up, I remember helping my father at the Lion’s Club booth at the fair. I went to many great PTA school events, especially the annual school carnival where I won dozens of goldfish over the years. My sister and I joined Girl Scouts and my brother Boy Scouts through which he earned the rank of Eagle Scout. I was in 4-H for a few years too. I joined my church’s youth group and did community service projects near and far. I was inducted into National Honor Society and continued to do service projects.

This led up to my senior in high school and it was time to register to vote.  In Iowa, you can register to vote when you are 17 ½ so you are all ready to vote at age 18.  I was 17 and almost one-half for the 2000 presidential election.  I was just a few months too young to cast my vote, but I remember that election year well.  I remember many poignant discussions with my family and friends. My then-boyfriend-now-husband was 18 and able to vote, and I was jealous (now I revel in my 8-months-younger status). Flash forward eight years and we stood in line with our six month old daughter for over an hour to vote in the 2008 election (and that was early voting).

In college and graduate school, I was formed by my liberal arts education to think about political and social issues in new ways.  I even gave an informative speech on the Green Party in my oral comm class. I took classes on social justice and worked with classmates to improve conditions for people on the margins of society.

Flash forward a few more years and I am on the mailing and emailing list of every congressional person representing me because I have contacted them all about the issues that matter to me. (Library and public broadcasting funding is important, y’all).

I grew into my citizenship and I continue to grow.  I recently joined my neighborhood association, a committee at church, and following in my mother’s footsteps, I am currently PTO president at my daughter’s school.

Now I am the mother, I am the teacher and I have the ability to help others grow into their citizenship.

One of the reasons that One Book, One College chose the theme of citizenship is the apathy we saw in students for the 2014 mid-term elections.  People 19, 20 years old were telling me that they we not even registered to vote. They didn’t feel informed or that their vote would even matter.  This year, One Book, One College hopes to change that by influencing people to get involved in issues that matter to them.

Submitted by Michelle Nielsen Ott