As the 2020 election results continue to be counted, the moments leading up to election day have left many American people at a hopeless loss. Divisive debates, chaotic news coverage and biting battles between the two opposing parties expose the polarization within our already shaken nation.
However, by reflecting on the final question of the vice presidential debate that took place on Wednesday Oct. 7, a glimpse of hope for the unprecedented future of our country can be found. This hope does not necessarily derive from the candidates' debate, but from the concerned voice of an eighth grade student named Brecklynn Brown.
In anticipation of the face-off between Vice President Mike Pence and Sen. Kamala Harris, the Utah Debate Commission and the Utah State Board of Education sponsored a statewide essay contest inviting all students from kindergarten to college to submit a 300-word essay answering the prompt: “If you could ask the vice presidential candidates one question, what would you ask and why?”
After 90 minutes of a civil yet divisive spar between the two candidates, moderator Susan Page, Washington Bureau Chief for USA Today, read Brecklynn Brown’s winning essay question aloud.
“When I watch the news, all I see is arguing between Democrats and Republicans,” Brown’s question began. “When I watch the news, all I see is citizen fighting against citizen. When I watch the news, all I see is two candidates from opposing parties try to tear each other down. If our leaders can’t get along, how are our citizens supposed to get along?” Her essay ended with, “How is your presidency going to unite and heal our country?”
Brown respectfully called attention to the poor examples set by our nation’s capital, pressing these leaders to acknowledge their alienating influence on the American people. Both candidates softened at this closing question and praised Brown’s genuine inquiry. Pence emphasized the American belief in a “free and open exchange of debate,” while Harris assured that “the future is bright...because of your leadership.”
This was a hopeful moment in the unsettling race to the 2020 election. It was not the candidates’ softened responses that provided an optimistic spark, but rather the essence of Brown’s insightful essay and her representation of America’s new and upcoming generation.
Born after 1996, Brown and the other 700 students who submitted essays, belong to Generation Z. Raised in a rapidly changing digital age and era of societal change, Gen Zers are the most racially and ethnically diverse and on track to be the best-educated generation yet.
“As we were talking in my history class about the many issues happening in our country, I realized the importance of listening and respecting each other,” Brown told Good Morning America in a statement. “I hope we can all try a little harder to understand one another and that we can all do our part to unite our country.”
According to Pew Social Trends, although only one-in-ten eligible voters belong to Gen Z, “their political clout will continue to grow steadily in the coming years.” This closing moment in the VP debate suggests that they are listening, watching and engaged in the battered condition of our country. Brecklynn Brown and these vocal students from all levels across the state of Utah represent a portion of Gen Z’s progressive voices, providing a sliver of light at the end of our nation’s dark tunnel.