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Odyssey Project students and local leaders to celebrate voting at online event

Artwork with megaphone and the word VOTE
Current Odyssey Project student Faleshuh Walker created this piece, earning second place for artwork in this year’s “Why Vote?” contest.

For Hedi Rudd, the decision to vote is both personal and powerful. In her award-winning essay for the 2020 “Why Vote?” project contest, she writes of the significance of her vote:

Hedi Rudd
Hedi Rudd writes about the power of her vote in her award-winning essay.

“My vote will tell my children and grandchildren that I stood against corruption and racism and that I don’t ignore the past but learn from it. My vote will tell my friends that I care about their access to healthcare and immigration reform. It will tell my neighbors that I believe in their right to protest, their right to housing and their right to hold leaders accountable. It will tell the world that humanity and our planet are sacred.”

For more than a decade, the “Why Vote?” contest has asked current and former students of the University of Wisconsin–Madison Odyssey Project to create an original work that convinces people to get out the vote.

The contest is a prelude to the nonpartisan event, “A Celebration of Voting,” which this year takes place online, Saturday, October 3, from 2 to 3:30 p.m. The celebration is designed to share voting information with attendees; representatives from The League of Women Voters will be on hand to answer voting questions.

A robust, inspiring program will feature Rudd and other Odyssey Project students and alumni, who will share their award-winning essays, poems and artwork, as well as short presentations on voting by prominent local leaders and actors, including:

  • Mandela Barnes, Lieutenant Governor of Wisconsin
  • The Honorable Reverend Everett Mitchell, Dane County Circuit Court Judge
  • Ruben L. Anthony, Jr., President & CEO, Urban League of Greater Madison
  • Representative Sheila Stubbs, Wisconsin State Assembly
  • Baron Kelly, UW–Madison Department of Theater and Drama, reading a passage by Frederick Douglass
  • Sarah Day and Gavin Lawrence, American Players Theatre, reading passages by Susan B. Anthony and John Lewis

The event is free and open to the public. Those interested in attending should complete the online registration form for access to the Zoom link.

Mandela Barnes, Hon. Rev. Everett Mitchell, Dr. Ruben L. Anthony, Jr., Sheila Stubbs
Lt.-Gov. Mandela Barnes, Hon. Rev. Everett Mitchell, Dr. Ruben L. Anthony, Jr. and Representative Sheila Stubbs are among the invited speakers for “A Celebration of Voting.”

Supporting civic engagement

“A Celebration of Voting” is presented biennially by the UW Odyssey Project, a program that empowers adults to overcome adversity and achieve dreams through higher education. Each year, the Odyssey Project offers a free two-semester humanities class for 30 adults, providing textbooks, childcare and a weekly dinner. They earn six credits in English from UW–Madison, as well as gain critical thinking skills and a sense of empowerment. Many go on to complete a college degree and find meaningful work in the community.

Illustration by Stanley Sallay
Stanley Sallay’s illustration is the first-place winner for art in this year’s “Why Vote?” contest.

The Odyssey class emphasizes civic engagement, with readings from Socrates, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Martin Luther King, Jr. Students make connections between historic civil rights struggles and their own lives.

Odyssey Project Director Emily Auerbach says that the “A Celebration of Voting” event is a natural complement to the program, which strives to help students develop and use their voices.

“Civic engagement has been one of Odyssey’s goals since its beginning in 2003,” Auerbach says. “We want to encourage our students, their families and the broader community to become excited about voting, get practical information about how to vote and use the power of their own voices to convince others to vote.”

Stanley Sallay
Sallay created his illustration after considering votes never cast.

Stanley Sallay, Odyssey ’07, used the power of the pencil to create his award-winning illustration for this year’s “Why Vote?” contest. Replete with symbolism and detail, his drawing is largely a study of those who neglected to vote. The central figure, Sallay writes, “is a man running as if he’s in a rush. ‘I don’t have time to figure out who’s running and vote.’ The road that he’s running on is broken and leads to nowhere…. The pair of dice near his feet is showing how he’s choosing to leave his future to chance.”

Sallay says the illustration was inspired by the idea of votes lost to those who are unwilling or unable to vote — or who don’t believe it’s important.

“I didn’t vote four years ago because I thought there was no way Trump would win,” he says. “Since then, I’ve wondered how many votes didn’t happen because of people who thought the same.”

For more information on the Odyssey Project, see the program website or contact director Emily Auerbach at emily.auerbach@wisc.edu. To donate to the program or become a volunteer, visit the Support Odyssey webpage.