(Left to right in foreground) George Washington, Benjamin Franklin and Alexander Hamilton sign the Constitution of the United States. “Scene at the Signing of the Constitution of the United States” by Howard Chandler Christy, 1940.
By Hayden Sadler
SUNY Plattsburgh, in collaboration with schools and speakers across the country, virtually observed Constitution Day Sept. 19 in various keynotes and panels held from 10am to 3pm.
While Constitution Day is the anniversary of the signing of the United States Constitution Sept. 17, 1787, SUNY Plattsburgh and other schools observed it on Sept. 19. Alongside his colleagues, Dr. Daniel Lake played a large part in organizing and facilitating the observance. Lake is the director of the Institute for Ethics and Public Life as well as the chair of the political science department on campus.
“As a public institution receiving federal funds, we have to observe it. Congress passed bills, which were signed into law by President Bush in 2004, mandating that all public institutions receiving federal funds observe Constitution Day,” Lake said.
Beyond merely having to observe the day, however, Lake also emphasized the importance of civic education, which he noted the decline in over the last couple decades. Tuesday’s observance provided not only an opportunity to reflect on the past, but also to educate and help people understand the importance of government education.
The Zoom-based observation consisted of conversations across political parties and a variety of high-interest topics such as gun control, the prison system, and polarization of the current political and media climate.
The first event was a keynote from 10 a.m. to 11:15 a.m. featuring guest speaker and Massachusetts State Rep. Natalie Higgins. Higgins discussed the importance of a working education system as well as advocated for political involvement.
The keynote was followed by an advocacy Q&A panel hosted by John Suarez, service-learning coordinator of SUNY Cortland, and featured guests across party lines. The panel ran from 11:30 a.m. to 12:45 p.m. Suarez asked a range of questions to the panel participants, one among them regarding ways that those in politics can educate or communicate with people who disagree with them. Despite partisan differences, all speakers shared a similar answer: Find common ground, work from a place of understanding and then discuss hard topics where disagreements are likely.
The Q&A panel featured Plattsburgh alumnus Adam Saccardi, director of constituent services for U.S. Representative Nick LaLota. Also in attendance were Frederick K. Brewington, a civil rights lawyer in Long Island and Manu Meel, a UC Berkeley grad, now CEO of BridgeUSA. Throughout the panel, discussion remained civil as the assortment of speakers spoke about their careers as well as how they approach similar issues.
From 1 p.m. to 2:15 p.m., the event consisted of an advocacy workshop, which, in the form of breakout rooms, allowed students to engage with and advocate for ongoing political issues.
Finally, the end of the event was aimed at informing students of the voter registration process. From 2:30 p.m. to 3:45 p.m., students were given online help in registering to vote.
SUNY Plattsburgh is poised to engage students in other ways, as the League of Women Voters hosted an informational voter registration table in the ACC on Thursday. With elections fast approaching, students are sure to find all the information they need to participate in the centuries-old tradition of voting.