A Rite of Passage

By Nick Gallo | Broadcast Reporter & Digital Editor | mailbag@okcthunder.com

In a pair of basketball shorts, a T-shirt and a flat-bill Jordan-branded hat, Michael Cole looked a lot like an average high schooler when he walked into Chesapeake Energy Arena on a warm September Saturday.

Yet this youngster had wisdom beyond his years tucked behind his sunset-colored Oklahoma City Thunder face mask. Cole recently turned 18, a birthday that he has looked forward to the way youths often look at 16 or 21 as markers of independence and adulthood. At all three ages in this country, citizens are afforded new rights, but also new responsibilities. As Cole walked towards the voter registration desk at Saturday’s Thunder Vote event, he felt the excitement and the newfound power he was about to attain.

“It was the back of my mind. I always knew that once I turned 18, I would have the ability to vote,” Cole said. “Once I turned 18, I just reminded my folks that I wanted to register.”

“I wanted to just be able to have the opportunity to vote,” Cole added. “I think voting is important for everybody. Voting helps get your voice heard.”

For the first time in his life, the politically conscious Harding Charter Prep senior was able to legally engage in the United States’ electoral process. With his mother alongside him, Cole went through the simple steps of filling out a form with his social security number and name, date of birth and address information that will allow him to vote in the upcoming Nov. 3 elections, which includes not just the presidency but Senate and House races as well.

“It wasn't difficult at all,” Cole said. “It was completely easy. I felt like it was a good process, quick and easy.”

Born in 2002 and raised in Oklahoma City all his life, Cole began recognizing the importance of his responsibilities as a citizen thanks to one of his teachers, Kyle Malzahn. Leading a class in European History, Malzahn enlightened students about the importance of voting, not in a partisan direction, but as a responsibility they have to participate in democracy. If voices are missing from the democratic process, it stands to reason they’ll be left out of the policies that flow from those elections.

With that understanding of both the platform he would receive at age 18 but also the crucial responsibility that comes with it, Cole recognized that he had a lot of learning to do. It’s one thing to cast a ballot, it’s another to truly select candidates based on policies, history, promises and information.

“One way I try to be informed is reading articles from both sides because I think it's important to hear both sides of the story,” Cole said. “That's really important, looking at different sources and not letting bias leak into my opinion.”

Understandably, many of Cole’s classmates have a less open attitude towards elections and the political process. It can be overwhelming, disheartening or frustrating to stay engaged politically and open to differing viewpoints, but Cole has, just like with his new ability to vote, adopted a duty-based mindset. At school, with the easy experience of registering at Chesapeake Energy Arena under his belt, Cole plans to encourage his classmates to make sure they register before the Oct. 9 deadline as well.

“I think I just have a little responsibility with helping influence them just to vote,” Cole said. “Not ideas, just to vote.”

“Any topic that pushes them, I'm glad,” he continued. “Everybody's vote matters.”

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