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New voter: a young woman’s political awakening

Hayley Colley of Tennessee is among the Americans who, on Nov. 4, will cast votes in a US presidential election for the first time.

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Hayley didn’t want for friends. She was a shooting guard on the girls’ varsity basketball team, and, with her social confidence and good looks, she was popular. But she kept a lot inside.

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“I always felt that separation going into my friends’ houses,” she says. “It seemed like no one else was in my shoes – no one. I think it definitely affected me politically. Growing up the way we did pushed me toward the liberal side of things.”

In her AP American history class, Hayley was riveted by two books: “What’s So Great About America,” Dinesh D’Souza’s post-9/11 tribute to the United States, and “The Betrayal of America,” Vincent Bugliosi’s indictment of the “stolen” 2000 presidential election.

Her senior year, classmates elected her commissioner of communications for student government. But if these were the first stirrings of a political consciousness, they would have to wait.

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On her own for the first time, at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville, Hayley went to so many frat parties that her grades tumbled. Her father was so disappointed he stopped paying tuition. She transferred first to a community college and then Middle Tennessee State University in Murfreesboro. She logged long hours on the quiet upper floors of the school library to raise her grades and straighten out her life.

Political talk among college friends amounted to tossed-off put-downs. Of Mr. Bush, she recalls, “We’d say, ‘He’s an idiot, I can’t even believe he’s running my country.’ ” But it never went beyond that.

“It just wasn’t on my mind,” she says. “Locally, I didn’t want to vote. Nationally, I knew we were screwed for another four years.”

Hayley won college internships with a local news station and a public relations firm, and graduated in December with a degree in electronic media journalism. She believed what people said while she was growing up: Get a college degree, and good jobs will follow.

She sent out dozens of résumés. But with the economy in turmoil, a glut of applicants, and few media companies hiring, she got few replies.

Dispirited, she moved in this spring with her grandparents in this Nashville suburb and took a job waiting tables at an Italian restaurant. She works four days a week for $2.13 an hour, plus tips. She fills her tank in such small increments that her car – a loaner from her father’s girlfriend – ran out of gas recently in the middle of Nashville.

“I can’t stand having a degree and not being able to use it – it’s killing me,” she said, still in her black restaurant clothes two hours after returning from a day shift. “I got through college and I’ve come out to a world that has nothing to offer.”

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