Monday, April 07, 2008

A Moment's Pause

Abraham Lincoln Memorial
I have to tell this story before doing anything else, dear reader.

In class recently we read various historical documents and examined them as pieces of writing only. How does Thomas Jefferson decide to open the Declaration of Independence? What rhetorical techniques does Martin Luther King, Jr. use in his "I Have a Dream" speech? It's instructive sometimes for students to realize that EVERY writer grapples with a beginning--how do I start this sucker? What do I do next?.

In lieu of the regular 250-word response analysis paper that they usually have to do, I offered the option of memorizing and reciting the Gettysburg Address to the class. It's short, I said. It won't take long. It'll be fun. "Define fun," somebody said. I've never tried this before, and you might say it's not a writing assignment and it's more like what a junior high class would do. But I put it out there anyway.

Only one student took me up on it, a young woman of soft-spoken demeanor, with freckles and glasses. A sweet girl and one I have trouble hearing sometimes. Further from Abraham Lincoln you probably couldn't get.

Well anyway, she had to put it off for one class because she didn't feel prepared. But she came in the next day ready to go. I made her stand up and she looked scared, but very brave. "Four score and seven years ago," she began. No eyes left the girl.

At first I think the students were impressed that she had done the memorization and so they listened. But as it went by, the speech itself took hold. She in her quiet careful voice held them in rapt attention. Lincoln's words came through this girl, simple and eloquent and moving. "All men are created equal," she said and we felt the truth and hope of that statement [those words borrowed by AL from TJ of course] "The world will little note nor long remember," she said, and of course those words are wrong. The world still remembers and we did too.

I don't remember a time of such great poignance in my class. When she finished, the ending moved us all. "that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom -- and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth. "
Our ovation was long and loud and sincere.

Hats off to her.


At 11:17 PM , Blogger sandman1 said...

Thanks for sharing that. I like to hear hear about young people appreciating such moments, since I feel like I didn't when I was that age. It's never too early for perspective and wisdom.

At 7:00 AM , Blogger Becky Motew said...

The moments are rare, sm.


At 2:38 AM , Blogger chiefbiscuit said...

Moments like that, I bet, make it all worthwhile. I'm glad you had that experience - yay for the introverts!!!! And so rewarding for you as well. :)

At 7:05 AM , Blogger Becky Motew said...

Thanks CB. It really was.


At 9:48 PM , Blogger Kristina said...

My last day of a women's history class in college, my professor read aloud a commencement speech given by Naomi Wolf. I was riveted. Naomi said everything I'd always felt about what it meant to be a grown-up woman, what I hoped to be, someday. My classmates were all shuffling and picking up their papers because my prof had misjudged the time and class was technically over.

But I stayed, rapt. And afterward asked for a copy of the speech, which she gave me, and I carry with me to this day, more than 10 years later, in my daily planner.

At 7:23 AM , Blogger Becky Motew said...

Wow, Kristina, I would certainly like to read that.


At 8:10 PM , Blogger Kristina said...

I found it!

Also, I Googled my old professor and told her that I've been carrying that around with me for 12 years. She was so glad to know it made an impact on me.

At 5:24 PM , Blogger Mark said...

Wow, what a moment, b. Thanks for sharing! The power of words...

And how massive would that experience have been for the girl who made the speech? Wouldn't be surprised if she starts to come out of her shell a bit now.


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