Contributed by Prince William County Bar Association, Inc.
Prince William County Bar Association presents “So You’re 18!” program and students register to vote at Stonewall Jackson and other area high schools
MANASSAS—-Some seniors at Stonewall Jackson High School may view their friends through new eyes after a recent visit from attorney Tracey Lenox, a member of the Prince William County Bar Association and an associate with Nichols, Zauzig and Sandler.
Lenox presented the Prince William County Bar Association’s “So You’re 18!” program, which brings 90 trained member attorneys to the 13 public high schools in Prince William County and the cities of Manassas and Manassas Park. Attorneys are visiting government classes to teach the legal rights, restrictions and responsibilities that change when a young person turns 18 years old.
For the students at Stonewall Jackson High School, Lenox described a scenario of three friends sharing an off-campus apartment in college in which two roommates hosted a party while the third slept elsewhere due to an early-morning exam. Upon returning the next day, the third roommate faced a goodbye note from the others, a large hole in the wall damaged during the party, and three months remaining in the lease—a combined rent payment of $1,500 per month.
The students were surprised to learn that since the three friends entered into a contract by signing the lease together, the innocent roommate could be responsible for the cost to repair the wall damage, even though she wasn’t present, and the entire monthly rent until the lease expired—nearly $5,000 total!
“It’s not really fair, but you have to be careful of your choices,” said one student. “I learned you are legally responsible for everything, not just what you do,” in joint living arrangements, said another 17-year-old.
The roommate scenario was one of many topics presented during the “So You’re 18!” segment of this two-part program. The Prince William County Office of Elections has been visiting schools and conducting student-voter registration drives since 1976, and began a partnership with volunteers from the League of Women Voters in 2008.
On this winter day at Stonewall Jackson High School, a lecture room full of students completed forms and then rose ceremoniously, raised their right hands, and solemnly repeated the voter registration oath, becoming part of the 90% of the Class of 2014 registering to vote through this program at Stonewall, according to social studies teacher Brian McCarthy.
“It’s great that voter registration is conducted at the same time,” McCarthy said, adding he appreciated the attorneys giving up time to come to the schools. “Kids ask about hypothetical situations every day in class—it’s much better they hear the answers directly from attorneys,” he said.
Brenda Cabrera, Chief Deputy of the Office of Elections urged students to “take voting seriously and understand how much your vote counts.” She reminded them 18-year-olds were granted voting rights in 1971 amid protests against the Vietnam War and selective service, also known as the draft.
“It’s hard to believe, but some people still don’t think 18-year-olds are responsible enough to vote,” she added, a sentiment that raised ire in many students.
“People our age should have the right to vote, and not be judged. Those who could care less won’t vote anyway,” said one student, dressed in an Air Force ROTC uniform. “Those of us who want to have a voice are responsible and we deserve the right to vote,” he said.
The Prince William Bar has organized the “So You’re 18!” program every year since 1999, and has collaborated with the Prince William Office of Elections and League of Women Voters since 2009, according to Alissa Hudson, Executive Director of the Prince William County Bar Association, and coordinator of the program.
Hudson and Cabrera ensure each of the area’s public high schools have the opportunity to register to vote, see the attorney presentation, and receive free copies of the “So You’re 18!” handbook developed by the Virginia State Bar.
The Prince William County Bar Association “So You’re 18!”program received an Award of Merit for excellence in sustained projects from the Virginia State Bar in 2012.
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