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UW Odyssey Project’s ‘A Celebration of Voting’ goes virtual ahead of important 2020 election

‘A Celebration of Voting’ will feature (l-r) Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes, Judge Everett MItchell, State Rep. Shelia Stubbs and Dr. Ruben Anthony.

Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes and Dane County Circuit Court Judge Everett Mitchell will be special live guests as the UW-Madison Odyssey Project hosts “A Celebration of Voting” on Saturday, Oct. 3 as the event goes virtual this year with a packed program of student voices, artwork, actors from American Players Theatre reading passages on voting designed to get out the vote.  

“We’ve done ‘A Celebration of Voting’ event every other year throughout Odyssey’s history because we really try to encourage civic engagement as part of our mission,” Odyssey Project Director Emily Auerbach tells Madison365. “So, every other year we get students to enter a contest for short essays on the topic ‘Why Vote?’”

The students’ charge is to imagine them speaking to people who don’t want to vote and don’t think it matters. 

“Their job is to convince that person in 250 words or less to vote,” Auerbach says. “Then we have judges who select the winning entries and they get published in The Capital Times. Every other time we’ve done this, we have a live, in-person event where students share those essays and other people contribute.”

The UW Odyssey Project class of 2020 during a visit to the Chazen Museum. (Photo by David Giroux)

The Cap Times will be publishing student essays on Sept 30.

“With our contest this year, we did expand it to include a poetry contest, song, and artwork and a teen division, as well, so our Odyssey Junior students could enter,” she adds. “So we have prizes and we’ve upped the prize amount. We really have tried to use this ‘Why Vote?’ competition as a way to encourage all of our Odyssey students, past and present, and Odyssey Junior kids to think about why people should vote and get involved in this process.”


The Odyssey Project is a rigorous, six-credit humanities course where students discuss great works of literature, American history, philosophy, and art history while developing skills in critical thinking as well as academic, creative, and persuasive writing. The Odyssey Junior program has expanded what the Odyssey program offers on Wednesday nights to include children and grandchildren of Odyssey students ages 2-18.

Because of the COVID-19 pandemic and the inability to interview students in person, the Odyssey Project asked Odyssey alumni made a video montage recording themselves (in the video above) sharing why they thinking voting is so important, or a particular voting experience that they had.

Ordinarily at the ‘A Celebration of Voting,’  Odyssey would help people register to vote or go ahead and do early voting.

“Originally, we were scheduled to have an event on Oct. 26 at the downtown library. We had booked the entire third floor with the big community room,” Auerbach says. “We would have had food and door prizes and people from the library and the League of Women Voters there to register folks.”

The COVID-19 Pandemic has changed all of that.

State Rep. Shelia Stubbs

“We made the decision to have this event online and we moved up the date because we want to make sure that we have it in time for people to still make the Oct. 14th deadline for requesting their early voting,” Auerbach says.

The online event will also feature Dr. Ruben L. Anthony, Jr., president & CEO, Urban League of Greater Madison, and State Rep. Sheila Stubbs. Baron Kelly, UW–Madison Department of Theater and Drama, will read a passage on voting by Frederick Douglass.

Dr. Ruben Anthony. Photo supplied.

“Baron Kelly is a new Odyssey Project faculty who has come in every year for 17 years from wherever he was a professor or wherever he was a professor and has joined our faculty. We are looking forward to him reading Frederick Douglass,” Auerbach says. 

Sarah Day and Gavin Lawrence, of the American Players Theatre, will read passages on voting by Susan B. Anthony and John Lewis.   

Representatives from The League of Women Voters will be on hand to answer voting questions. “They will stay on for a half-hour at the close of this event to answer people’s questions about how to vote, where to vote, what to know. The whole process is daunting sometimes,” Auerbach says.

The community is encouraged to register now for this free event. Closer to October 3rd, Odyssey will send all registrants a Zoom link

“One of the problems that we’ve always had with this event is the catch-22 situation – if you have an event about voting, how do you get people who are not interested in voting to attend?” Auerbach says. “In the past, we’ve been able to have food and door prizes and free books for kids and make it into the party. It’s really hard to do that online. We have some very notable speakers like Mandela Barnes, Everett Mitchell, Shelia Stubbs and Ruben Anthony and we will be reaching out to Odyssey extended families who may want to see their loved one shine at the program.

“I’m hoping that it will attract some people who weren’t planning to vote who will then become inspired and go out and vote. That’s the goal. This is an important election coming up,” she adds. “It will be a packed program. It should be fun and informative.”