Views expressed in opinion columns are the author’s own.

In the days leading up to Nov. 3, we will vote to elect the next president of the United States. Every election is important, and the 2020 presidential election marks a pivotal moment in our history. It will affect millions of lives, including every member of the University of Maryland community. With such high stakes, voting is not merely a right — it is an imperative. 

As a lifetime educator and the president of this university, I see voting as an even greater responsibility for our generation of students. Allow me to take this moment to address them directly.

If previous elections are reliable benchmarks, less than half of young people will vote this year, which is too low for a generation that will inherit a vast and urgent array of grand challenges: climate change, food insecurity, racism, poverty and disease. I recognize that many in your generation feel that previous generations — including my own — have failed to apply enough urgency to these issues. I acknowledge this criticism and pledge to use my platform to do more. At the same time, it is your generation that bears the responsibility of addressing these grand challenges — and part of that responsibility lies in electing leaders who represent your perspectives and convictions. 

Your generation has the opportunity to be the most powerful force in our country today. You are the most talented, most diverse generation in history. You have access to some of the most accomplished scholars and academic minds in the country. And you have demonstrated a fierce commitment to change and fearlessness. This election is an opportunity to exercise your collective power. 

Universities lie at the dynamic center of our democracy. We are a community of diverse people, perspectives and ideas. College campuses are marketplaces of open discourse, an environment where we are confronted with experiences, biases and perspectives different from our own. How we listen to, learn from and question opposing viewpoints is perhaps the most important skill educators can impart. 

Free speech is an underlying principle of our democracy, and universities must fiercely protect this right. That does not, however, relinquish our obligation to fight back against the abhorrent and offensive speech all too prevalent in today’s polarized environment. With our vote, we can loudly stand against all that we do not believe in. And let us not forget that facts matter, science matters and people matter. As we navigate this election season, it is imperative that we seek truth in the riot of noise and tumult. 

Less than two weeks remain before the election. Educate yourself about the issues. Find trusted sources of information. Learn the policy positions of the candidates. Listen to others. Encourage friends to make a plan for this coronavirus-complicated Election Day. Speak up for what you believe in. And vote. 

You are doing more than casting a ballot; you are lifting your voice. This Election Day, make sure you are heard. 

Darryll Pines is the president of the University of Maryland. He can be reached at