DENVER — Despite the construction sounds of a giant screen being erected just 100 yards away for Wednesday night's (October 3) outdoor DebateFest student viewing party and people hustling all around her on the campus of the University of Denver to get ready for the first televised showdown between President Obama and challenger Mitt Romney, Alexandra Gardner is remarkably calm.
The 25-year-old graduate school student who is working on a dual masters degree in international MBA and intercultural and international communication and who is also the president of the Daniels College of Business at DU is not only ushering at Wednesday's domestic policy event, she's also working as an assistant to the NBC News team on site and as a student media representative. And, despite growing up in a seriously political household, one that included vigorous debates from both sides of the aisle, she's going into the night's rhetorical rumble with an open mind, and open ears.
You see, Alexandra is that rarest of species: a truly independent young voter who is fully engaged in the political process, but still unsure where her vote is going.
"It's exciting, it's kind of a once-in-a-lifetime experience to be involved in something like, and to have it at your school and get to witness the debate live," said the highly motivated woman of the world, who has studied abroad in China, Hong Kong and London and lived in Spain for a year.
Despite reading everything from local and national papers to overseas reports from the BBC News and Al Jazeera, Gardner said she's still waiting to hear what Obama and Romney say on Wednesday night. "Sometimes I really don't make a decision until I go get my ballot and check the box," said Gardner, who voted for George W. Bush and Obama, respectively, in the past two elections.
Among the issues she's focused on: health care costs, the debt, educational costs for college, the war in Afghanistan and food labeling. So, how does someone who seems so worldly, so well-read and opinionated and motivated not know who will get her vote with just five weeks until election day?
"I'm never a straight-ticket voter," she said. "My grandfather was the head of the Mesa County Republican party of Colorado, my father was really involved with him in politics ... so my parents are really conservative ... My brother worked for the past democratic governor of Colorado, Bill Ritter and for another Democrat from Colorado, who my parents have done fundraisers for. My parents are conservative, my brother's a Democrat. We have all these conversations in my family and they come at me from both sides."
The debates at the dinner table are always interesting, to say the least, but Gardner said that wide political spectrum has allowed her to be balanced and open-minded when it comes to backing candidates of all stripes.
"I feel like I'm really good at seeing both viewpoints and seeing where both sides are coming from," she said. "To me that's really important ... I think it's really necessary to be educated on the different views of each politician, and where they're coming from and what their plans are to be able to make an informed decision. Too often people are so stuck in their views that they are unwilling or unable to be open to how somebody could have a different opinion from theirs."
Gardner's advice to young voters who might be considering sitting this one out or who aren't feeling the heat of the presidential race yet? Read as much as you can, talk to your friends, talk to your family, talk to someone who has an opinion different from yours. Just talk.
"Sometimes I think my brother and my dad struggle to see each other's viewpoints, but we're always open to a conversation about it," she said.
Check back for coverage of Wednesday's presidential debate and stick with MTV's Power of 12 throughout the 2012 election season.