Claiming democracy: Alum earns right to vote

For many Williams students, the recent election was the first time they cast their ballot in a presidential race. Whether they voted via absentee ballot or waited out the long lines at a local voting precinct, it was a day of historical importance not only for the country, but also for the new generation of voters ready to have their voices heard.

Selma Kikic ’02 was just one of the many in the Williams family who cast a ballot for the first time in this past Tuesday. For Kikic, Nov. 4 was an unforgettable day as a political participant not because she was too young to vote in past elections, but because she was only granted her U.S. citizenship this past summer. And to document this momentous day for Kikic, Newsweek was along for the ride.

“The Newsweek experience came about rather randomly and unexpectedly,” Kikic said. “A good friend works there and was doing several election related stories that day and thought that it would be fun to include my story as well … I just saw it as an interesting opportunity to share my own story and allow a camera to follow me as I exercised my basic civic duty.”

Although Kikic initially did not think much about having Newsweek with her at the polls, it helped her assess the significance
of the experience. “It made me happy that I was privileged to have my first voting be forever captured by a camera and then broadcasted on the web for anyone to see,” Kikic said. “For those who are already Americans, it made them even more proud to be Americans and to have this incredible privilege to choose the most important leader that the world has. For those who are not yet citizens, it inspired them to try even harder to apply for American citizenship and really seek that dream of being able to have their voices heard.”

In a time of unprecedented change in American history, the opportunity to have her voice heard was invaluable for Kikic, especially when millions around the world are still disenfranchised.

“As a U.S. citizen, [voting] was important to me as I felt that we had this amazing opportunity to start creating something
new that hopefully works and that will allow America to become the darling of the world like we once were,” Kikic said. “I felt that this was an amazing opportunity to better secure our leadership position on the world stage as a nation where our core principles such as innovation and hard work and sense of fairness and responsibility are envied and aspired to.”

The journey for Kikic to her monumental day at the polls was far from ordinary. At the age of 13, Kikic, whose relatives had been placed on the Serbian death list because of their status as Bosnian Muslims, came with her family to the U.S. as refugees. Once here, her family relocated to Dallas, Tex., where Kikic continued to develop her love of tennis and strong work ethic – qualities that brought her to Williams in 1998.

“As a 13-year-old who has never before traveled beyond the borders of ex-Yugoslavia, coming to America was exciting and overwhelming,” Kikic said. “All I could think about was the American movies I had seen on TV. To be honest, I didn’t know what to expect. I think the excitement of the trip simply helped take my mind off of the sadness knowing that my country was not safe enough for us to return to at this time. I was excited, scared, and distracted, but overall, I bought into the reason for why my parents decided to bring the family to the U.S.A. – a possibility for a better and safer future for our family, specifically my sister and me.”

This belief in the possibility for an improved and more secure future has greatly shaped Kikic’s political values. In Bosnia, Kikic knew what it was like to have her culture, her values and her life threatened by the invasion of the Serbian army. Although Kikic appreciated the Clinton administration’s efforts to bring peace to the region through the 1996 Dayton Peace Agreement, she has seen subsequent conflicts in former Yugoslavia take a back seat to other global and political issues.

“The current administration didn’t seem to take much of an interest in Bosnia over the last eight years, and so I saw this [election] as an opportunity for Bosnia to become a bit more important again to the U.S. as the stability of Balkans often rests on the overall stability of states such as Bosnia and Herzegovina, and now Kosovo,” Kikic said. “I believe that the Bosnian people are, in general, excited about this election and its outcome.”

Although she is now a U.S. citizen, Kikic still relates to the issues of her former countrymen. She hopes that with the incoming administration, peace in the Balkans will once again be a foreign policy priority. But her vote doesn’t just signify a choice for a brighter future for Bosnia; it also indicates a brighter future for Kikic.

“I must admit that going to vote, I didn’t even realize just how powerful this whole experience actually is until after I finally cast my vote,” Kikic said. “As soon as I left the voting place, and was outside enjoying the slightly chilly November morning air, I felt very much overcome with emotion.”

The excitement that has gone along with this year’s presidential campaign has brought to American citizens, both old and new, a sense of where this country stands and where it is headed in the next four years. Whether or not the outcome of the election was what one hoped for, the right to vote for one’s future leader is a powerful and emotional experience
that was highlighted even more so in this year’s historical election – an election that was historical for not only the nation, but also for individuals like Kikic who were finally able to call America their country.