Angelo Cocchiaro was a 2017-18 Inspired Leader. He now attends American University in Washington, D.C. and has discovered what it means to be a civically engaged citizen. Read more about Angelo here.
Angelo Cocchiaro is from Berkeley Springs, West Virginia and was ecstatic on December 17, 2017, when he got the news that he was accepted to American University in Washington, DC. During the 2017-18 school year, he was an Inspired Leader with the West Virginia program at Berkeley Springs High School where he and his classmates helped register 139 seniors to vote, 100% of their graduating class! Thanks to Angelo’s leadership of the Inspired Leader team, Berkeley Springs won the Jennings Randolph Award from the WV Secretary of State. Angelo was also selected as an Honorary Secretary of State for his efforts. He’s now pursuing a major in Communications, Law, Economics, and Government (CLEG).
Angelo and other Berkeley Springs High School Inspired Leaders registered most of their peers in the classroom, but some of the senior class students registered to vote during a large assembly that WV Secretary of State Mac Warner attended. Watch Angelo speak during this event on a local WV News channel here. Here is an excerpt from that article:
The work doesn't stop after registration; the Inspire West Virginia team will continue to work with students to actually get them out to the polls to cast their vote.
"Don't just vote but get involved in fighting for whatever issues you believe in," said Cocchiaro. "Inspire's a nonpartisan organization, but whether you're right or left, whatever you believe, get out there and fight for it."
As Angelo reflects on his time in high school with Inspire U.S., he said the involvement with voter registration and engagement activities “helped me to understand that part of being an engaged and active young person is being aware of what is going on in the world and taking civic responsibility seriously.” He’s now living out this belief on AU’s campus by being involved with the AU College Democrats and AU Rotaract Club.
Angelo recently participated in a youth round-table discussion on the Hill with Senator Klobuchar (D-MN) to discuss a three-prong legislative package she is re-introducing this session. The legislation includes access to voter registration, youth voting, and high school civic engagement. Along with Angelo were other student representatives from organizations such as March for Our Lives and Georgetown University Votes. Angelo enjoyed sharing his experience in voter registration, including difficulties and barriers he encountered to participating in the process.
When asked about his hope for other young people in West Virginia he expressed a sense of belonging, pride and ownership. He hopes that young people in WV become politically engaged, lifelong voters. “I hope young people decide to stay in West Virginia (or come back) and make it an even better place to live, work, and raise a family.”
His sense of pride of being a West Virginian has impacted his decision to stay registered to vote at home vs. re-registering in Washington D.C.
“I intend to remain registered to vote in West Virginia. Unfortunately, residents of the District of Columbia remain disenfranchised in congressional representation, and so if I were to register to vote in Washington, I would lose my right to have a say in who votes on my behalf in Congress. I still feel as though I identify more as a resident of West Virginia than Washington, which is only my temporary residence for school.”
Election after election, West Virginia has among the lowest voter participation of any state in the country. Younger residents are leaving the state at a high rate due to lack of opportunity. Angelo believes that since the political process is becoming increasingly controlled by the oldest residents of West Virginia, who are far more likely to vote than the youngest voters, it is critical that young West Virginians increase their participation in the political process.
Angelo makes Inspire U.S. proud to call him an Inspire Alumnus. He has stayed connected with Inspire and recently volunteered at a high school voter registration drive in northern Virginia at T.C. Williams High School. His journey to becoming a life-long engaged citizen is unfolding at AU and we can’t wait to see where his path takes him, hopefully back to the hills of West Virginia and maybe to run for office one day!
Thank you Angelo for sharing your story with Inspire.