Sumer Hughs is an Inspired Leader at Hannan High School, West Virginia. She is also a Fellow with the 22x20 campaign. Learn more about Sumer and her passion for voting.
Sumer is a 17-year-old senior who cares about reproductive health, LGBTQ issues, and universal healthcare. Sumer took time out of her busy schedule to talk to us about living in a small town in West Virginia.
What’s your first memory of being active in politics or in your community?
As cliché as it is, I can’t remember a time when I was not politically active. I met the WV governor, Joe Manchin, when I was in Kindergarten. I was absolutely fascinated, even then! I can remember the controversies surrounding the Obama campaign plain as day. It was monumental for most of the country and even seven-year-old me. My mom had always kept me informed and answered all my questions about our local and federal government. Having a civically engaged parent helped grow my love for the well being of our community and country.
Do you feel like other students at your school are interested in voting? Why or why not?
Many of the students at my school are neutral to politics. There are only a few students at my school who voice their opinions – me being one of them. I live in a rural area with many middle-class families, Baptists, and union workers, making for a mix of Republican and Democrats.
However, there has seemed to be a shift in our political atmosphere since the WV teacher strike. Many of my peers were alongside many of our teachers during the days of the strikes. After that, many people started to open their eyes to the harm that is being done to the union workers and working families in our communities. Many people stopped voting straight ticket parties and started voting on who would help their family, their schools and their jobs.
How can we better communicate with the average student voter?
We must show student voters that their opinions matter. It is so important to show them how they can impact their communities. If they don’t like something, they can change it with simple civic engagement. After we show them their ability to make a change – we must get them to the polls. My community is very rural, and many students don’t have transportation of their own. If their family vehicle is gone at work, their family or friend with a car isn’t voting, or they don’t have their license – they could be stuck without a way to a polling place.
What are your plans after graduation?
I plan to study Political Communications and continue my efforts in the civic engagement field. I’ve applied to multiple colleges in and out of West Virginia but am still undecided where I’ll land.
People always say one of the biggest challenges in West Virginia is the brain drain; a lot of young, educated and talented people leave the state because they can’t find jobs here. What’s your opinion on the brain drain in West Virginia?
Recently, I believe West Virginia has started to progress in the right direction. Our economy has begun to expand and shift slowly as well. However, we are still not the most ideally diverse place, in views or work. Times change, and so do the views and occupations of rising generations. West Virginia is still an old fashion state. It is not the most appealing option for me or many of my like-minded, nontraditional friends. West Virginia needs to develop more than just jobs before it can keep its youth around.
What do you think is the #1 issue at your school and in your state: jobs
Of course, playing off the previous question, - jobs. Many of my peers aren’t going to a typical four-year college. Some will graduate with a certificate or will pursue a technical degree. WV has many working-class citizens, and it’s important to provide careers for them. However, some of my peers are pursuing a 4+ year education. We are made up of more than just laborers and individuals in the medical field despite it being the majority. West Virginia’s economic development should also expand for my peers that are studying engineering, STEAM, journalism, art, and so many other programs as well.
If you go to college outside of WV will you stay registered to vote in WV or re-register in another state?
I’ll stay registered in West Virginia. I believe my vote matters more where I have called home for 18 years, than where I will be for 4.