New voter in land of opportunity

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With the third and final debate now behind us, and political vitriol spreading like wildfire, it’s no wonder why so many Americans have become apathetic about the election process and, alarmingly, may cease to vote at all.
Struggling to find answers about how our “Land of Opportunity” has somehow become overshadowed by negative and controversial rhetoric, it was a random Facebook post on Monday night that sparked a revelation within me, and I hope you, too.
Bright eyes and a beaming grin stared at me from Facebook’s blue and white screen as Alpharetta resident, Kenan Sener, gleefully posted a photo of himself smiling, proudly pointing to his “I am a Georgia Voter” sticker. His post read, “YAY! My first vote in America. I am very happy to be part of the democratic process of this great nation.”
Well, imagine that…
This was a post I needed to see. This is a post that our nation needs to see. This is a post that carries a powerful message, a message that seems to have been lost in translation during a period of political mudslinging that has jaded many and, maybe, dulled our focus on perhaps the most important issue to remember during this election cycle.
Our country still enjoys a rare and privileged right to vote. Let’s never forget that.
Kenan Sener is one American who doesn’t take this privilege for granted. His Facebook post reinforced what many Americans are likely feeling, but few media outlets are covering…the joy surrounding the ability to vote. This is exactly why I wanted to learn more about Sener’s experience and meet him for lunch. The conversation was cathartic to me for many reasons.

Appen: Thanks for chatting. Your Facebook post came at a time when I really needed to see something positive after what has been a very awkward election season.
Sener: I’m so happy that my post made you happy. I was just being myself when I wrote it. I was joyful in that moment and felt so happy to have had an opportunity to vote. The response to that post has been amazing. I can’t believe how many commented about my experience. It seems to have started some interesting dialogue.
Appen: Well, yes…they say happiness is like cologne; you can’t put some on yourself without sharing it with others. I think we all need some happy a few weeks before the election. Please talk to me about why this election meant so much to you. Let’s try to change the rhetoric to something more upbeat. Together.
Sener: Well, I guess in some ways, I am living the American Dream. Arriving in the United States 15 years ago with a temporary work visa, I placed tremendous value on hard work, determination, continuing education, respect and gratitude. I have earned several degrees, gotten married and welcomed three beautiful children into my life. Professionally, I have been fortunate enough to have grown into positions of increasing responsibility and leadership. When I arrived in America, I was a proud computer teacher. Today, I am the proud principal of Fulton Science Academy private school, a wonderful private STEM school that has grown from 100 students to 455 students in only three years. It’s mindboggling, really.
Appen: Wow! That’s quite a trajectory! Right now, your school is arguably one of the most successful public or private accredited STEM schools in Georgia. You just moved into a new campus and are already looking at expansion plans because your enrollment is increasing. I was delighted to just see FSAPS named the Best Private School (K-12) in our “Best of the Best” Awards and also just read that you were a finalist in two categories of the prestigious STEM Education Awards hosted by the Technology Association of Georgia. How does this feel?
Sener: To hear you say these things, well, it almost doesn’t seem real. If there were a medal for hard work and perseverance, our students and faculty would certainly deserve it. They keep us on point. They are always reaching farther, higher, wider, deeper to create the best possible educational experience, and it shows. Whether it’s discussing an upcoming academic team competition or a prior presidential debate on TV, our students always keep us on our toes. I love that about our school!
Appen: I bet you do. How did it feel to complete your first ballot as an American citizen last week? I heard you voted at the new Alpharetta City Library right after being presented with a proclamation from the Alpharetta City Council. Apparently the council wanted to congratulate you and the school for raising more than $8,000 to help fund pediatric cancer research.
Sener: It was a day I will remember forever. The award was unexpected but very much appreciated. I stood there in the beautiful courtyard in front of City Hall and was speechless. I was emotional. I feel so privileged and fortunate to live in a country where you are afforded a chance to work hard and achieve. There is rule of law here. There is opportunity here. There is hope here. I really believe anything is possible here.
Appen: These seem to be life lessons that you also try to impart to your students, correct?
Sener: Yes. We have always tried to establish a culture where students understand that being smart simply isn’t enough. The world wants and needs community leaders who are compassionate -- who give back, who lend a helping hand, who work hard, who do not feel entitled, who take nothing for granted, who embrace those who look, act, and feel differently than we do. The electoral process has actually given us a great chance to delve deeper into these issues.
Appen: Wonderful. Talk to me about your school’s students and the election.
Sener: Well, I appreciate my new right to vote as a citizen and express my values. Similarly, Fulton Science Academy teaches our students that voting is a privilege – one that should never be taken for granted. We try to instill in them a desire to understand the issues so they can make well thought out and educated decisions. I was elated when some of our teachers approached the administrative team and proposed a mock election for our students on November 1. It will be such a special day!
Appen: I can only imagine the excitement as students cast their vote and proudly wear their “I Voted” sticker, just as you did last week.
I think we could all learn an important lesson from those who approach this election with open eyes and grateful hearts, embracing perhaps the most important lesson of all.
That voting is not only a right, it is a privilege.


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