Meet the students and teacher who registered their senior class to vote

Seniors Vashay, Rafael, Abbie, and Emily with their social studies teacher Matt Nighswonger

The students at Shadow Ridge High School in Las Vegas, Nevada, know that changing the culture around voting starts at home — in our schools and communities. That’s why seniors Abbie, Rafael, Emily, and Vashay teamed up with their social studies teacher Matt Nighswonger with an important goal: To register every eligible voter in the senior class.

With the help of When We All Vote’s partner, Inspire U.S., a national nonpartisan organization working to amplify the youth voice through peer-to-peer voter registration and engagement, more than 550 seniors at Shadow Ridge are registered and ready to make their voices heard in every election. Shadow Ridge was recognized with the Helen J. Stewart Award by Nevada’s Secretary of State, Barbara Cegavske, for having registered at least 85% of eligible seniors to vote. When We All Vote, Inspire U.S., and several elected officials are joining to celebrate their accomplishment. We’re so proud of student leaders and staff at Shadow Ridge for bringing more young people into the voting process.

Read more about Abbie, Rafael, Emily, Vashay, and Matt. They told us why it’s important for young people to vote and shared their advice on how to organize friends to make their voices heard, too.

Abbie Zuhlke

Abbie Zuhlke is a senior at Shadow Ridge High School. She’s a student-athlete and represented her school as a delegate at the Nevada Girls State Conference and the Hugh O’Brian Youth Leadership Seminar. She will be attending Texas Christian University on a full academic scholarship in the fall with plans to study biology and continue on to become an orthodontist.

I believe that it is important for young people to vote because we are the ones who are going to live through the repercussions of this era’s legislation and be directly affected by the decisions of our elders. My vote as an 18-year-old high schooler matters just as much in an election as my 65-year-old grandfather’s vote. My vote is not assigned any less value simply because I am young, and I think that is quite incredible. Voting also gives you the opportunity to advocate for change that you directly support. If you don’t vote for your interests, who will? I see involvement in the political process as a responsibility of any U.S. citizen.

Rafael Torres

Rafael Torres is a senior at Shadow Ridge High School. He’s a folklorico dancer, leader at Leaders in Training, and a member of Make the Road Nevada and the Youth Power Project.

I ensured that all of my friends who were eligible to vote, voted, because I am not of age yet. But when I turn 18, I will ensure that my vote is counted. It is vital, and I stress this, that young people vote because we are not the leaders of the future, we are the leaders of TODAY. I say to do your research. Nowadays, there are fake news articles that persuade each side of the political candidates and provide false truths. Ensure that you know who you are voting for and find out how they will benefit your identity.

Emily Little

Emily Little is a senior at Shadow Ridge High School where she’s a member of the band. After high school, she plans to serve a mission for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and then study history and sociolinguistics in college.

I got involved in registering students because I felt very underrepresented in my government and that the issues that matter most to me were not being discussed. The easiest way to bring the topics to the table was to encourage those around me to vote and spread their voice, so I pushed my peers to join me in getting involved in their community. I think it’s important for young people to vote because we aren’t just the future of this country, we are also the present, and we have a responsibility to make our voice heard. One piece of advice I would give to young people to help them get their friends registered and voting is find what matters to you and the people around you. Government is and should be personal because it affects us all. We all have our own stories to tell and you may think your vote is just one vote, but standing together as a generation and as a country will make all the difference.

Vashay Young

Vashay Young is a senior at Shadow Ridge High School. She’s the president of the Black Student Union and captain of the varsity basketball team. In the fall, she’ll be attending Xavier University of Louisiana.

Here at Shadow we had a few visitors show us how to register to vote. Unfortunately, I wasn’t 18 so I could only pre-register. However, I was excited for the opportunity and encouraged my 18-year-old friends to register to vote. I believe it’s important for young people to vote because we have a say in this community we live in. I cannot stress this enough — that the young generation will eventually be the future. Why should we have to be a certain age to fix our community when we could fix it while we’re young? Here’s my message: Closed mouths cannot be fed. As I always say, first we represent ourselves, then we represent our families, and finally we represent our race. Many are relying on us. Let’s represent right!

Matt Nighswonger

Matt Nighswonger is a social studies teacher and football coach at Shadow Ridge High School.

I am doing all I can to make sure that my students are registered and ready to take part in our democratic system as they finish up their high school careers. I believe it’s important for young people to vote because our government will be more representative and responsive to the country as a whole. As an educator, I’m preparing my students for civic life after graduation and beyond. We can’t rely on anyone else. If we want our students to know something or to do something, we have to be in charge of that. We can’t assume they will get it any place else.