A Saginaw Valley State University-based program that prompted K-12 students to write postcards to the future governor of Michigan – before the election – resulted in a response that far exceeded organizers’ expectations. The messages received revealed the civic-minded hopes of today's youth, as well as their deep anxieties.
The SVSU Writing Center's “Write Your Future Michigan Governor” postcard campaign – performed in collaboration with the Great Lakes Bay Region YWCA – resulted in more than 1,500 postcard messages.
“We had anticipated receiving a few hundred postcards at the end of this campaign, said Helen Raica-Klotz, director of the SVSU Writing Center. “We were surprised – and very happy – with the number of postcards we did receive.”
The idea behind the civic engagement initiative was simple. The campus Writing Center, and its affiliated Bay Community Writing Center and Saginaw Community Writing Center, distributed blank postcards across the state. Michigan residents were invited to write a message on the postcards for the future governor in October, before voters elected Gretchen Whitmer. Participants then returned the postcards to the SVSU Writing Center. The correspondence will be mailed to Whitmer after she is sworn into office in January.
While the opportunity was open to all Michigan residents, the overwhelming bulk of messages were authored by K-12 students, Raica-Klotz said. Fifty-one teachers from 18 school districts in the Great Lakes Bay Region requested postcards for their pupils.
Those students responded with messages revealing their hopes, dreams and concerns. Regardless of the author's age, the subject matter ranged from humorous to deadly serious. Bullying, the Flint water crisis, gender equality, protecting the environment, homelessness, and school shootings were among the most common topics addressed.
“Every classroom should have all bulletproof windows,” read one message in the scribbled penmanship of a student likely in elementary school. “They should have a little room in the classroom the (sic) way all of the kids can go into if you need to and the little room must have no windows.”
Other messages likely from students early in the K-12 system struck more lighthearted tones. One student complimented the governor on the mitten-like shape of Michigan. Another requested legalizing owls as pets.
Hundreds of the postcards were written by teenagers. Kelli Fitzpatrick, a teacher at Beaverton Junior/Senior High School, said 17 students in her 12th grade English class participated.
“When I pitched the idea to them, I assumed they would pick topics that directly impacted them, but most of them picked other people's hardships or issues affecting the state,” Fitzpatrick said. “I was inspired by it and not quite prepared for it. They have a lot of energy they want to direct at society.”
While waiting until it's time to send the correspondence to Lansing, Raica-Klotz has lined the entire length of several walls within SVSU's Writing Center, located in Zahnow Library, with the 1,500-plus postcards. The sight provides a sense of scale for the impressive size of the response, she said.
“This campaign was important because it gave voice to many of our Michigan residents who are still elementary, middle, or high school students and are not able to vote – but they will one day soon,” Raica-Klotz said.
“I hope, by writing this postcard, each student understood that they can participate in the government by communicating their ideas through writing.”