University of Pittsburgh

commons room

First Vote

Written by Cara J. Hayden

By the time freshman Tony Jovenitti put a period at the end of his literature examination, several thousand people had lined up along University Drive, the road that zigzags between the upper and lower sections of Pitt’s campus. In fact, the line to get into the Petersen Events Center was a half-mile long and nearing the Cathedral of Learning.

So when Jovenitti exited the Cathedral after submitting his exam booklet, he was surprised to see how many people had turned out for a political rally on a Monday night, the first day of spring finals week. Sure, he knew the event for Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama was going to be big, but not this big. Good thing he had a VIP ticket.

As Jovenitti hiked toward the events center, he passed the waiting crowd of students studying textbooks and parents coddling babies and aging men gazing patiently at the pale, April sky. Canvassers hustled up and down the line, passing out rally-entrance forms, as hawkers sold Obama pins, bracelets, and playing cards. People waved from the windows of surrounding academic halls and dormitories, some brandishing “McCain for President” signs. In the midst of the Obama-o-rama, 18-year-old Jovenitti felt excited about the next day’s Pennsylvania primary election—just look at all the fervent people!

At the Petersen, he showed his VIP ticket and, after passing through metal detectors, joined some friends on the basketball hardwood near the platform. They’d all received coveted floor passes as members of Pitt Students for Obama. Jovenitti first joined the organization on Facebook, a social networking Web site, and then began to attend the group’s meetings. Soon, he was registering voters, calling citizens, and knocking on doors to encourage people to vote for Obama in the primary election.

At the rally, Obama stepped onto the platform to the roar of 10,000 citizens. Among them was Jovenitti, who whooped and clapped during highlights of the candidate’s speech—especially when Obama talked about giving tuition credits to college students who volunteer. The enthusiastic rally stretched to midnight. Then, as thousands of soon-to-be voters headed home, Jovenitti and his friends got to work with a bucket of sidewalk chalk.

On the concrete pathways of upper campus, Jovenitti wrote “Vote Today!” in giant letters, until he returned to his room in Sutherland Hall at 2:30 a.m. to crash. By 7 a.m., he was at an Oakland polling station, where he voted and spent the next 13 hours passing out “I Voted” stickers and other pamphlets. Hillary Clinton ended up winning the Democratic nomination for Pennsylvania, but the Pitt freshman felt proud to be part of the process.

This fall, Jovenitti is majoring in political science, a move prompted by his involvement in the campaign. In November, he cast his first-ever vote for a president of the United States.