As we send the members of Ashtabula County’s class of 2019 off into the next phase of their personal adventures, there are many pieces of advice we could offer. In most cases, however, experience is the best teacher, and we have faith this year’s group of seniors will go on to have a long list of successes, be they in Ashtabula County or elsewhere. 

But there is one experience we hope local graduates dive into headfirst — civic involvement. That does not have to mean leading protests on Washington or marching in the streets, but wherever you end up living — whether that’s here in Ashtabula County or somewhere across the country — know your community. Learn the names of your Congress member, your state representative and senator and your city council members. Volunteer, and offer more than just money but your time and your ideas as well.

Those in the younger generations who do not get involved yield the floor — and the decision making power — to older generations whose concerns are much more about the present than the future. Your lives may take you many places and offer numerous adventures in terms of careers, families and other opportunities. Seize them. But never grow too busy to be engaged, to be educated and to vote. 

The pull of apathy can ironically be quite powerful. In today’s edition of the Pulse of the Voters, despite having strong opinions on important issues, many local respondents talked about how disengaged they felt from the political process. They felt their votes — the one substantial and unassailable voice we the people have in politics — weren’t worth it. So they didn’t bother. And in fairness, they are far from alone.

But the old cliche that one vote never makes a difference is completely untrue. We saw that just this week when the results were certified for the May election in Ashtabula County. The Geneva Police levy had both pros and cons as it was an important funding mechanism for upgrading the department’s staff and vehicles, but also a significant tax increase. It was a tight vote, and after the final two provisional ballots were counted, the measure passed by four votes — 380-376. However, a single no vote would have reduced the margin of victory below 0.5 percent and triggered an automatic recount.

Now, it is true that most elections are not quite that close, but the more people who decide their votes don’t matter, the more decision-making power they yield to those who do show up. The May election saw polling locations overwhelmed with poll workers rather than voters — yet 12 important tax levies were decided. As the saying goes, decisions are made by those who show up. These taxes — whether someone is a homeowner or not — have a direct effect on your life and those in your community. The same is obviously true when deciding on our elected officials.

Even when it comes to local matters, too many people believe they can’t make a difference or a positive change. We hope many young adults in the class of 2019 get a chance to explore the world — though we do hope they eventually come back to Ashtabula County. We find many people can struggle to value or put their hometowns into perspective until they see the challenges other communities face as well. Some of those with the most negative views about the county have never lived anywhere else. No place is free of crime, drugs, poverty or even potholes. We hope you see the world and see what Ashtabula County really does have to offer in comparison — as well as the ways you can make a difference in shaping its future.

Congratulations to the class of 2019, and wherever you go on life’s journey, we urge you to be the best citizen you can.