Democracy at Midd: Beyond the Ballot

The following reflection was inspired by Lily Buren ‘26. Lily helped coordinate the Beyond the Ballot event series in October 2022, which hosted local Vermont candidates for a nonpartisan discussion about the importance of civic engagement.

Lily Buren ‘26, a first year student at Middlebury College, has been involved in civic engagement from a young age. As an 8th grader growing up in Vermont, Lily had the opportunity to work as a Legislative Page, living at the state house and working with local legislators. As a Page, Lily delivered messages to local representatives and witnessed firsthand what the legislative process looks like in Vermont. Through this experience, Lily became comfortable approaching legislators and learning from them how to become civically involved.

Lily credits the accessibility of participating in the political process in Vermont for her early interest and involvement in civic engagement. This past summer, Lily worked with her Town Representative to help organize events for local candidates to talk about their campaigns and the issues that matter most to them. By working to bridge the gap between legislators and citizens, Lily has helped break down barriers and build connections for people to get involved in their communities and make a direct impact. 

These experiences have helped to shape Lily’s path and influenced her desire to bring local candidates to Middlebury campus for two nonpartisan Beyond the Ballot events in October, prior to the midterm election. In collaboration with Center for Community Engagement staff, Lily helped organize and coordinate the Beyond the Ballot events, including contacting legislators, coordinating schedules, and facilitating both events. Lily was able to secure statewide candidates Joe Benning (Republican), Sarah Copeland-Hanzas (Democrat), Mike Pieciak (Democrat) and David Zuckerman (Progressive) to visit campus during the busy election season. They joined Middlebury students, staff, faculty, and community members for nonpartisan discussions focused on the importance of civic engagement.

Efforts from students like Lily and MiddVotes–a nonpartisan student organization dedicated to increasing student civic engagement, especially around voting–have made Middlebury College a leader in student civic engagement. In the 2020 Presidential election, the Middlebury student voting rate was 85.7%, an increase of over 23% from a voting rate of 62.3% in the 2016 Presidential election (NSLVE, 2021). Washington Monthly recently ranked Middlebury College the 2nd best college for student voting out of 230 colleges and universities. Middlebury was also recognized by ALL IN To Vote as part of the inaugural cohort of “Most Engaged Colleges for Student Voting”. As Joe Benning (R) said, “You have it in your power to change things that our generation may have overlooked.” Way to go, Midd!

Civic engagement does not just end with casting your vote; it begins there. “Voting is the floor, the most basic fundamental way to be involved,” David Zuckerman (P) explained. As Mike Pieciak (D) put it, “you are either on the field playing or in the stands watching.” Conversations have now turned to working together to address some of Vermont’s most challenging issues. The candidates on the Beyond the Ballot panels reflected on the importance of collaborating and finding common ground across political differences. Sarah Copeland-Hanzas (D) reflected, “We must continue to engage with those who seem to be across that divide or we are going to lose democracy.” Joe Benning (R) suggested that to start, we “find a simple problem and bring separate entities together and work together on that problem.” David Zuckerman (P) suggested if you have 15 minutes a day to do your hair, you have 15 minutes a week to devote to our democracy.

For more information on how to become involved in civic engagement at Middlebury, visit go/democracyinitiatives or contact Kristie Skor, Democracy Initiatives Coordinator, at

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