Seth Fawcett, a senior at Wilde Lake High School, probably never thought that he would meet the Rev. Jesse L. Jackson, let alone use the back of the civil rights leader to fill out a voter registration card.
Yesterday, Seth, a lanky 17-year-old Columbia resident, found himself on the school's auditorium stage with close to 200 classmates who were inspired to register to vote after an hourlong speech in which Jackson included messages of racial tolerance, academic achievement and the avoidance of violence.
After ending his talk by stressing the importance of voting, Jackson invited students who will be eligible to vote in next year's presidential election to register.
Jackson told the students on the stage to use their neighbors' backs to fill out the voter forms. Seth, who was standing next to Jackson, followed the instructions, as Jackson and the audience laughed.
"Any person can make a difference and be important," Seth said.
Jackson spoke to more than 700 students at Wilde Lake High in Columbia as part of his national tour to promote political awareness and empower young people. Jackson contacted Howard County officials to speak at the school free of charge.
"The best of us and the blessed of us must help the rest of us," Jackson told the audience during a talk that included some of the catch phrases - the words "I am somebody" were repeated several times - that have made him a memorable speaker.
Jackson frequently used the call and response method to reach his young audience, which was predominantly comprised of juniors and seniors at the school. He was able to weave in a Cliff's Notes version of the civil rights movement, which included references to Emmett Till, Rosa Parks and the desegregation of public schools, to stress the importance of education and the necessity of voting.
"If you want change - vote for it," Jackson said.
Superintendent Sydney L. Cousin said Jackson's appearance fit with the mission of the school system.
"Part of the purpose of education is to prepare students to become responsible citizens," said Cousin, a former social studies teacher. "Voting is a part of that."
Ginny Glover, a 16-year-old senior and the school's Student Government Association president, thanked Jackson on behalf of the student body and presented him with a T-shirt and hat in the school's colors of green and yellow. Jackson immediately put them on.
"I got goose bumps throughout the entire speech," Ginny said. "It was a great experience."
Restia Whitaker, the school's principal, told students how excited he was when Jackson came to speak to students at Morgan State University, which Whitaker attended in the 1980s.
"He has been a champion for change and he has been a great man of justice," he said. "That is timeless."
Jackson's appearance had an added meaning for Jesse Martin, a 15-year-old junior. His father, Jesse L. Martin, attended Jackson's alma mater, North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University, in the 1970s.
"My dad was thrilled," Jesse said. "He told me [Jesse Jackson's] a good role model."
Jesse, a member of the school's Alpha Achievers, a group that celebrates academic achievement of minority males, had his photo taken with Jackson shortly before the speech. Jesse later said he was struck by Jackson's message of civic responsibility.
"As minority voters, we have a voice that counts," Jesse said. "To have it and not use it is a crime."