02/02/2013 02:46 pm ET Updated Apr 04, 2013

Teen 'Rights' of Passage

Registering to vote was very reminiscent of the day I got my driver's license.

Right before my road test, I envisioned how my life would be different once I had the independence that came with driving a car. I had never been adept at navigation, but it seemed as if all drivers possessed an inherent knowledge of every road, side street, highway and traffic circle within a 50-mile radius. Figuring I would have an epiphany of my own and lose the anxiety that gripped me whenever I pulled out of the driveway, I was thrilled after I passed my road test.

But on my first joy ride alone, I realized that I was bestowed with no such internal GPS. The lack of divine intervention disappointed me, and after making several circles around my own town, I found myself exercising my new privilege with diminishing frequency. I had the entitlement, but none of the wisdom. Driving wasn't fun, but rather a huge responsibility. It didn't help that other drivers who refused to yield the right of way caused me great irritation. I felt bizarrely unfulfilled and without direction.

I had a comparable sense of anticlimax when I registered to vote in my government class last week. Though I knew I had a liberal standpoint, I didn't think I was politically savvy enough to align myself with a party. Beyond my fears of being incarcerated should my registration form prove invalid, affiliating myself with any particular group screamed "slacktivism." I couldn't see the benefit of attaching my name to a cause I might have little or no involvement in, and I wondered whether or not I would truly contribute in areas of politics that didn't involve bubbling in the names of random candidates on Election Day. Or maybe I would become so disillusioned by unyielding politicians and frustrated by their gridlock that I wouldn't make the effort to go out and vote.

Despite my initial leanings, my teacher convinced me to select a party. I didn't know if I'd ever be motivated to vote in a primary election, but I thought the option sounded somewhat appealing. Despite my shortage of knowledge, I felt it was my civic duty to take advantage of the liberties granted by the Constitution.

When I was younger, my parents made a point of not taking me on any outings that involved waiting. I was vocal about my hatred of grocery shopping, buying new shoes, and eating out. Going with my parents to vote was one of the few things I could tolerate.

Much like driving, I had always seen voting as fun. I loved stepping into the voting booth, watching my mom close the curtain and pull levers that were high above my head. Though the system looked complicated at the time, I believed that the concept of voting would click for me once I could do it on my own.

But much like driving, voting seemed like nothing but hype and confusion once I was finally given the opportunity.

However, I have a renewed desire to learn. I never want to get lost on the road, and I never want to vote for the politician just because she has the coolest name on the ballot. I want to be a better driver, and I want to be a more informed American. I want to reap the benefits of privileges that people of other nations can only dream of having. Maybe these responsibilities aren't what I originally thought them to be, but maybe I have to learn to embrace them in ways that don't necessarily involve the notion of "fun." Most of all, I want to use my independence wisely.

To anyone on the road, watch out for me. To anyone running for office, I'll be watching you.

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