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Conventional wisdom says that the nation's youngest voters are often its most apathetic.

But hundreds of political activists and college and university presidents presented a letter to representatives of likely presidential nominees George W. Bush and Al Gore this week in an effort to change this very perception.

Campus Contact, an organization designed to augment civic involvement in higher education, held its annual Presidents Leadership Colloquium at the Inn at Penn on Monday and Tuesday. The presentation of the letters to the presidential candidates was the focus of the convention.

At a luncheon on Monday afternoon, Thomas Ehrlich -- a senior scholar at the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching -- delivered the letter to the campaigns of the Vice President and the Texas Governor.

"There is mounting evidence that too little discussion is going on in civic engagement in this age," Ehrlich, a former Penn Provost, told approximately 150 people present at the luncheon.

The letter, just over a single page, asks that the two presidential candidates meet with a small working group of college and university presidents to help augment the participation of young people in the American political realm.

"We want your aid in promoting responsible, productive citizenship that taps the talents and intelligence of our students for public contributions at a time when the need is great for sustained public service," the letter said.

"The results, we are convinced, will be to tap the talents and energies of young citizens throughout the nation for the large public tasks at hand," continued the dozens of university and college presidents who signed the letter.

University of Maryland Professor William Galston spoke for Gore, reading a statement from the Vice President to those assembled.

"It is one of my central passions, the promotion of citizenship," Gore said in his letter, commending the goal of Campus Compact. "I would welcome the chance to work with you to find programs that would more effectively advocate civic engagement."

Bush also sent the convention's delegates a message through his representative, Pennsylvania Secretary of Education Eugene Hickok.

Like Gore, the Texas Governor praised the convention's delegates for the goals expressed in the letter.

"Civic engagement is not something that our children just learn," Hickok read from Bush' letter. "It is something to be taught."

Activists and higher education officials also came together in various workshops, focusing on strategies for encouraging civic engagement among youth throughout Monday and Tuesday.

Attendees addressed the lack of political participation from multiple perspectives, from the views of students to administrators to faculty to the communities surrounding universities.

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