At the dawn of this day, I knew it would be a long one. I had to docent a class that is nowhere near my field (The History and Sociology of the American Woman…). I had to lead a freshman study group (an absolute terror to any graduate assistant). Today was the day that the much debated Student Wellness and Recreation Center finally would come to a vote before the Senate of the Student Government Association. Then, I found out a motorcade was going to be rolling through downtown.
This was no typical motorcade. This was to honor an individual who, though I never met him, would have been offended if you called him sir. “Don’t call me sir; I work for a living,” would have likely been his response. He was the father of three kids, worked for the Bibb County sheriff’s office, and was a staff sergeant in the Army National Guard. He was also killed in action outside Khost, Afghanistan on September 30th by a roadside IED.
The Senate Session, the most important and intense of the year (and quite possibly the most important since I have been involved with GCSU Student Government) paled in comparison to what was happening outside in the street. As the sirens approached in the distance, the business of wellness centers and increased fees didn’t seem quite as important. The senate recessed so its members and observers could join the crowd gathered on the sidewalk to pay their respects as a hero passed by. On any other day, this would have been the most notable event. But this was not any other day.
Later on in the evening, I led a study session for Politics and Society, my school’s freshman American government course which is required of all students. After the session was over, a student came up to me. He was an international student from Iraq. He didn’t know about the motorcade; he’d been studying for the upcoming exam. What he didn’t understand was why students had not participated more in the decision about the wellness center. Out of six thousand students, less than 100 attended the meetings.
He told me how if you had expressed opposition in Iraq, even about something as minor as a student fee, you were risking your life. He told me of family members who had lost their lives. He told me of the betrayal of friends who had join the insurgency. Then, he talked to me about how much he loved being in this country. He spoke of how he couldn’t understand how Americans did not take advantage of the freedoms to which they had become accustomed and apathetic. He understood how valuable and precious the freedoms are that are largely ignored by people who have lived under those freedoms their entire lives.
In spite of the snide comments of some of the scumbags in the crowd, who didn’t understand why we were honoring someone who killed for a living, the mass of people who lined the streets understood a fact so profound that many can no longer comprehend it. SSgt French understood it. A young international student understood it. Freedom is precious. Bringing freedom to the far corners of the world “forgotten by all but the war lords” is worth sacrifice. America, even with all of its problems, is still the greatest nation in the world. “People want a better life, and they want it here.” But, what about freedom everywhere? Why can’t that be our goal?
Yet the same revolutionary beliefs for which our forebears fought are still at issue around the globe—the belief that the rights of man come not from the generosity of the state, but from the hand of God. We dare not forget today that we are the heirs of that first revolution. Let the word go forth from this time and place, to friend and foe alike, that the torch has been passed to a new generation of Americans—born in this century, tempered by war, disciplined by a hard and bitter peace, proud of our ancient heritage—and unwilling to witness or permit the slow undoing of those human rights to which this Nation has always been committed, and to which we are committed today at home and around the world.
~ President John Kennedy