Jackson Vamos: Sacred Duty

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Democracy itself has been under attack, but Jackson Vamos’ faith in the American way is bolstered by his grandfather’s unshakeable devotion to the fundamental democratic right – the right to vote.

In 1968, Papa – my grandfather, a war refugee – became a naturalized U.S. citizen. At the time, he was a Syracuse University chemical engineering professor, husband to an American woman, and father of two American-born girls.

Twenty years earlier, the Arab-Israeli War of 1948 had splintered his family. As an Armenian born in Palestine, he lost citizenship. Forced to flee, he spent two years of his childhood in a refugee camp in Jordan. He, his brother, and grandmother lived in a tent and later, a concrete shelter.

Like many American immigrants, Papa embraced America but his journey to naturalizationrequired unbelievable persistence. After naturalization, he registered to vote. He was 32 years old, yet he’d never before been able to voice his opinion about who governed him. He believed that the right to vote was powerful and precious.

While I can’t imagine experiencing his hardships, my love for democracy is as strong as his. Thehistory of American democracy is inspirational to me. I have avidly read multivolume presidentialbiographies and memoirs, documents important to our constitutional government, and politicalhistory.

When I discovered I could serve as a poll worker through San Mateo County’s Student Vote Center Ambassadors Program, I applied, trained, and worked during the primary and general elections this year. I helped voters with the check-in and ballot drop-off processes and assisted new, or “future” voters with conditional voter registration.

My grandfather was one of them. Having moved to California, he wanted to register to vote andsurprised me by showing up at my vote center. Papa’s now a few months shy of 87 and his gait is uneven. Having fallen a few times last year, he’s usually reluctant to walk much outside, but“Election Day,” he explained, “is different.” I told him I was glad he came. He replied, “Voting is
the most important thing you can do as a citizen. It’s a sacred duty.”

Despite predictions of democracy’s demise, seeing Papa register as a voter

spoke volumes to me about the strength of democracy.

With a Perspective, I’m Jackson Vamos.

Jackson Vamos is a student at The Nueva School in San Mateo.