Every spring, commencement speeches echo across college campuses, calling upon students to engage the world. Speakers will invariably haul out terms like "civic engagement" and "global citizenship." Lost in the inspiring rhetoric are the less glamorous, yet arguably more vital, daily forms of civic participation. Such soaring words often obscure the fact that our basic civic duties, voting, jury service, electoral office - the three core constitutional requirements of citizenship - are being ignored in favor of grand plans to "follow your passion" and "change the world."
Civic responsibility is the rub of citizenship. As President Obama candidly acknowledged in his commencement address to Ohio State University this month, borrowing themes from John F. Kennedy's famous inaugural, "As citizens, we understand that it's not about what America can do for us. It's about what can be done by us, together, through the hard and frustrating but absolutely necessary work of self-government." It is not about changing the world in a boundless future, but engaging constitutional responsibilities in the grounded present.
The political responsibilities of voting, jury service, and participating in elective office are the basics of our constitutional order. If we are inspired by anything at graduations, we should be inspired to participate in these fundamental, if ordinary, constitutional duties.
Sunday, May 26, 2013
At The Atlantic, Andrew Guthrie Ferguson writes: