Mae C. Jemison urges young people to vote in this year’s presidential election

Jemison and members of the Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority, from left to right: Erika Baldwin, Debranae Campbell, Mae C. Jemison, Ugochinyere Nwaneri, Victoria Rodgers, Justaughna Earle

Dr. Mae C. Jemison, physician and first African-American woman sent into space, came to Eastern Michigan University Wednesday to discuss the importance of voting.

“I’m not actually here to tell you what to do, even though I really could,” Jemison said, “the only thing I’m going to tell you to do is vote.”

Jemison spoke to students in the EMU student center auditorium. The crowd was small but enthusiastic. Her main supporters were the Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority sisters on campus. The event was put together on short notice by pledges, even with the difficulties of a busy homecoming week.

“We make up most of the population now,” said Ugochinyere Nwaneri, member of Alpha Kappa Alpha. “[Millennials] have a huge future—we have a lot of issues in the world that need a lot of students’ voices on and off this campus.”

According to a recent Pew Research Center study, people between the ages of 18-35 make up roughly 31 percent of eligible voters. EMU’s campus has been scattered with men and women armed with only clipboards and a mission to register young voters.

Nwaneri’s sorority intends to help register voters at the tailgate of EMU’s homecoming game on Saturday. Jemison’s efforts are set squarely to have voters register before the deadline of Oct. 11.

While her sole goal was to get students to vote, in general, Jemison’s support is with presidential candidate Hillary Clinton. Campaign members helped with the presentation and asked for support, but Jemison didn’t directly encourage students to take her side on things. However, she did bring some enlightenment as to why she chose Clinton.

“Right now this campaign seems to be about keeping Donald Trump out,” she said. “It’s really about a commitment we’ve seen over the years and the opportunities [Clinton] can offer; the knowledge, the intelligence, the guts that it takes to move things forward.”

Jemison called for young voters and people in general to look at evidence when it comes to picking a candidate. Her thinking, she said, is based primarily on not focusing on what can be done immediately but rather what can be done to make a difference later. In her eyes innovation, commitment and a caring for people are what really drives the country forward.

In terms of this year’s election, a common reason for people being unwilling to vote is they don’t believe it makes a difference or they don’t care for Clinton or Trump. Jemison addressed this, saying it does make a difference when more than one person has that mentality in this election.

“That whole thought of ‘my vote doesn’t matter’ is very dangerous, and it’s been around for a long time,” she said, addressing a question an audience member had on the subject. “But each one of those votes builds up to something. With 35 percent millennial voters you all really matter, but it only happens if you go out and cast your vote.”

Jemison graduated from Stanford with a bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering and an associate degree in African and Afro-American studies. She joined the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) in 1987, going into space herself in 1992. Resigning from NASA a year later in March of 1993, she continues work as a physician. Additionally, she founded the Dorothy Jemison Foundation of Excellence to research new teaching methods.


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