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Good Citizenship Starts Way Before You Can Vote… Make It A Habit

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASPA as an organization. 

By Bob Brescia
September 15, 2017

Leadership expert and writer Stephen Covey wrote about the power of habits in his “7 Habits of Highly Effective People”. We should cultivate good habits, nurture them and discard bad habits. Habits can be constant life companions – both the good ones and the bad ones. Perhaps young people could adopt good citizenship habits so those habits accompany them into adulthood.  Properly nurtured, they will last a lifetime.

It is easy to tell young Americans to be good citizens, but it is not easy to tell them how.

Sometimes, civic inspiration can come from listening to and evaluating a carefully prepared and targeted speech. One of the greatest orators of the last century was our leadership institute’s namesake, John Ben Shepperd. Shepperd served as Texas Secretary of State and Attorney General in the 1950s. The following excerpts are taken from an address he delivered at an Education for Citizenship Conference for East Texas High School Seniors at Baylor University, Waco, Texas, March 2, 1951. Remember — these remarks are dated so there are some things that have changed since then, such as the voting age being lowered from 21 to 18. Shepperd originated the idea for the annual Citizenship Conferences conducted by the East Texas Chamber of Commerce. Here is what Mr. Shepperd had to say:

John Ben ShepperdI’m not surprised if there is, in many of you, a strong feeling of criticism toward the older generation—criticism of the condition in which your heritage is being handed down to you. How would you feel if your father gave you a new convertible for graduation, and gave you the mortgage with it—with the first payment already due? That’s the way you’re getting your Freedom. Liberty is always bought on an installment basis, and every generation has to make a payment. It was by sorrow, sacrifice and blood that your fathers and mothers were able to give you this heritage at all, and your debt of gratitude is great. But it is not a perfect gift, and since the job of preserving it and making it better will be largely yours, I’d like to point out a few of its faults and make a few suggestions about what you can begin doing right now to keep Democracy on its feet—to insure our future freedom.

Even though you are not old enough to vote yet, you can prepare for the time when you will vote, and you can actually begin voting now—through your influence. Use your influence for good government. Take your parents to school meetings and programs, and to political rallies—get them interested in public affairs. They’ll do more for you than you think! If they say they are too busy, form a citizenship partnership with your parents—be their reporter; keep them informed so that they can form intelligent opinions.

After school and on Saturdays, why don’t you form groups and visit the city hall, courthouse and courtrooms; and during summer vacations visit the capitol and legislature. Why not meet and visit your public officials? Find out what their duties are; they’ll be flattered by your interest. Since you are still in school, let your most immediate concern be the meetings of the school board—there is a lot more of interest going on in them than you realize.

One of the fallacies of our system today is that the public, your elders, and you yourselves seem to think you have nothing to do with politics and government until you reach voting age; but how can you vote at 21 if you have not prepared for it? You don’t become a responsible, self-governing citizen overnight. You work at it. You study it. As junior citizens, you are now in the preparation stage for what you will be when you are 21. What you will do then is being determined today! It is ridiculous to think that you could jump into a car and start racing through the streets without first learning how to drive—you have to be taught to drive—or swim—or fly; and learning to vote takes even more thought, and study and preparation. It’s not easy—begin now as junior citizens preparing for the use of the ballot, and for receiving the responsibility of senior citizenship.

Too many of us think of the government as “it” or “they”—a faraway thing that collects taxes and tells us what to do. WE are the government; it is WE who decide what to do; it is WE who pay the bills. It is the job of your generation to put the WE back into “We, the People.”


The John Ben Shepperd Public Leadership Institute believes in teaching leadership, ethics, service, civics and Americanism to young Texans. We also applaud all the other institutes throughout the nation that are helping youth to “get off the sidelines and into the game” at an early age. Make it a habit to exercise daily civic involvement — It’s all part of the new Americanism.

Author: Bob Brescia serves as the Executive Director of the John Ben Shepperd Public Leadership Institute, Odessa, TX. His latest book is Destination Greatness – Creating a New Americanism. Bob has a doctoral degree with distinction in Executive Leadership from The George Washington University. He also serves as Chairman of the Board at Basin PBS – West Texas public television. Please contact him at [email protected] or Twitter: @Robert_Brescia.

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