Monday, July 4, 2016

Luke's American Adventures: Living an American Adventure

Luke's American Adventures: Living an American Adventure

“If you can dream it, you can do it.” The words of Walt Disney are more than just a catchy inspirational quote. These very words embody the heart and soul of the American Dream, a dream which embeds ideals of anything being possible with the right amount of determination and effort driving it. America's path has never been easy, and the spirit of the millions of people that have made America can be summed up in one word: perseverance. Disney may have said it, but so many other Americans, in their own ways, lived by the same creed:

  • William Penn: A man who traded a debt for a new colony and a new freedom for people of all religious faiths. 
  • John Adams: The rule of law can't be set aside when met with bias or emotion, and the honorable thing is to do what is right even if it's not popular.
  • Abraham Lincoln: A farm boy with less than a year of formal education who eloquently led our country through its darkest days, never losing sight of the words that birthed the nation: all men are created equal.
  • Andrew Carnegie: Showing success was not in amassing great wealth, but sharing it to better his countrymen’s minds through literature and the arts.
  • Wilbur and Orville Wright: Two brothers who taught the world that the sky’s the limit.
  •  Rosa Parks: Finding the courage to say, “No,” when it would have been easier to just give up not only her seat, but hope that tomorrow would be different.

Benjamin Franklin National Memorial
Philadelphia, PA 
If you asked my opinion of history when I started this series, I would have most likely responded, “You want to know about history? Stare at a clock.” I utterly despised it, viewing it merely as a useless list of dates and times. Preferring more concrete disciplines such as math and science to philosophical thinking, I was more interested in the whys and hows, never the whats and whens. I believed in a false idea of “If it does not directly happen to me, it does not affect me.” However, the philosophy and thinking of Franklin do have a direct effect on me. If Franklin had not tied that key to the kite, we might have still been writing by candlelight! I failed to see that one action, or lack thereof, could drastically change the outcome of any number of events. 

In the Civil War, brothers were pitted against brothers over the questioning of slavery’s legality, both on a legislative and moral level. However, amongst all the fighting, Clara Barton donated herself to tending to injured soldiers, to the point where she would selflessly throw herself into the crossfire just to tend to and help as many as she could. The “Angel of the Battlefield” dedicated most of her later life to helping all who needed her. Her acts of generosity saved many lives, allowing many veterans to return home to loved ones, rather than die there on the battlefield. She opened my eyes and my heart to a generosity that transcends time and inspired me to join the mission of her beloved American Red Cross.

Donating Blood through the American Red Cross
Donating blood through the American Red Cross
My hometown, NJ

I aspire to be a special needs therapist. I know what it feels like to be counted out, yet make a full turnabout because someone believed you deserved a chance. Being told, “You can’t,” was an inspiration for President Theodore Roosevelt. Not being able to put one foot in front of the other didn’t stop Franklin Roosevelt from walking the United States through one of its most challenging times. These cousins showed citizens failure isn’t something to fear, and when you’re counted out is when you learn just how strong you are.

Historic NASA Mission Control
Houston, TX
During the early days of space exploration, President John F. Kennedy once said, “We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard.” Often in the past, I would do whatever was required to get by with a minimum of effort. Although this would get me through my tasks, it always left one question lingering in the back of my mind - could have done more? Studying the many immigrants to America, including my own relatives, and what they overcame has inspired me to work harder. I have learned that sometimes taking the harder path leads to results I never thought possible, and they certainly would not have discovered taking the easy way.

I used to think that historical events could be compared to puddles; each one sometimes significant in its own right, but separate from all others. I now realize that history is more like the mighty Mississippi, where a small lake provides the headwaters, but as creeks and tributaries flow into it, it grows and grows, until it becomes the water highway that became a critical holding for both the Union and the Confederacy. Small, seemingly insignificant actions can determine which way the water flows; a small, nearly unknown skirmish upstream kept the Union alive to fight further south at Vicksburg, helping turn the tide of the war. 

The Mississippi River at Vicksburg
Vicksburg, MS

I’ve also learned America isn’t just about presidents and peace treaties. The country is not an inanimate partial continent but is imbued with the soul of Lady Liberty. She has a land and culture all her own, from the National Parks to Graceland. I learned about the Portsmouth Head Light from a textbook, but pictures did not prepare me for how imposing it was when I saw it in person, and how huge a role it must have in keeping sailors from being dashed on the nearby rocks. I have a new appreciation for the men who lived in submarines and on battleships for months at a time; only an hour of touring and I felt claustrophobic! Good old “Yankee ingenuity” is responsible for the Johnstown, PA incline trolley, used daily for commuters but first installed as an emergency evacuation route after the devastating 1889 flood.  One can’t help but feel wonder standing at the base of a rocket and thinking, “Whoever thought, ‘Hey, let’s fill this thing with people and launch it into space?’” Baseball unites generations; the Mike Trouts and Bryce Harpers of the current lineups emerge from the shadows of Babe Ruth, Joe DiMaggio, and Jackie Robinson. Walt Disney himself has influenced American culture, from Oscar-winning animated films like Snow White and Frozen to a commitment to integrity in bringing other cultures to life.

Fort Necessity
Farmington, PA
I began my high school career full of excitement and grand plans, not unlike a young and naive George Washington when he came across a Pennsylvania meadow and deemed it a “charming place for an encounter.” After the skirmish at Jumonville Glen and a battle in that once charming meadow, he began to change his mind, and by the time he buried mentor General Braddock a year later, his opinion of war had been completely changed, making him a cautious and strategic Commander-in-Chief. I never thought I would be homeschooled; I fully intended to spend four years at Sacred Heart. Through learning about how there is a time to fight, a time to stop and regroup, and a time to move forward again, my mindset changed and I came to embrace and even enjoy this new path. I’ve learned we must allow our experiences to temper us just enough that we become wiser than we once were but not become hardened to new experiences.

All of these people -- these Americans -- have taught me that truly studying history is more than just reading enough to tick the box on the way to a diploma. History is not just events in the past, but actions of people who once lived. A former teacher of mine once said, “Those who do not learn from history are forever doomed to repeat it.” I thought she was discreetly threatening some of my struggling peers. Now I see that she was right. The seeds of our future are sown in the past, and if we do not learn from our past, both our own and those of forefathers, we will never learn a new way of thinking to be successful in the future. When I began writing this series, I thought the adventures would belong to the people I studied, but over the past three years, America has become my adventure, too. Though graduation means I’m leaving this series behind, every day in America will always be an adventure as I keep in mind the promise made at Walt Disney's beloved Epcot: every new day we go on.

With the stillness of the night
There comes a time to understand
To reach out and touch tomorrow 
Take the future in our hand

We can see a new horizon 
Built on all that we have done 
And our dreams begin another
Thousand circles 'round the sun

We go on 
To the joy and through the tears 

We go on 
To discover new frontiers 

Moving on with the current of the years 
We go on 

Moving forward, now as one 
Moving on with a spirit born to run

Ever on with each rising sun
To a new day
We go on

EPCOT/Walt Disney World
EPCOT/Walt Disney World
Lake Buena Vista, FL

We Go On
Composer: Gavin Greenaway/Lyricist: Don Dorsey
(c)1999 Walt Disney Music

©2012- 2016 Adventures with Jude. All rights reserved. All text, photographs, artwork, and other content may not be reproduced or transmitted in any form without the written consent of the author.

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