Last Monday, I spoke with students at Tanglewood Elementary School about the cross country journey. The teachers (my mother being one of them) and students had been tracking my progress with the use of a large map and push-pins on a hallway bulletin board. The 114-day trek happened to coincide with the fall session, so ending the year with a fun show-and-tell presentation to the second, third and fourth grade classes seemed to be a great idea, and an invitation impossible to decline. The kids were excited, and wanted to see me and the bike that had ridden adventures throughout the semester-long story.
After rolling the bike and bags of gadgets in for display, Mrs. Barkley helped out with the last few arrangements as the kids began to fill her library. It wasn't long before the floor was warmed with perfectly behaved fourth graders. With about an hour set aside for each grade, I talked to the students about how fortunate we are to have the freedoms and way of life that we have in America. How some of us grow up and decide to be soldiers that dedicate themselves to protecting and preserving these freedoms. And how important it is to help and support those soldiers that have made such a commitment to their country – duty as the price of citizenship. They listened quite intently.
I then introduced them to the bike and the gear – the means to achieve the dream. With tools and know-how in place, we went on our slide show journey, starting in Seattle and photo flashing our way across country through 13 states. The rest of the day flew by in similar fashion with good questions asked from each grade and plenty of enthusiasm along the way. The pictures of puppies, horses, dinosaur skulls and Texas longhorns seemed to be all-around favorites. I liked those things too when I was in their shoes.
There were a few drifting moments where I traveled back in time to my own days as a student in Tanglewood. And though more than twenty years separate this present from that past, many of those memories still resonate with amazing clarity. More than the cafeteria smells, or sounds that echo the same down those long, tiled hallway walls, I think it was having a few familiar faces there that gave the spark, and re-ignited new life to those childhood memories. Mrs. Stephens, my fourth grade teacher, was one of those faces, and a big reason why that school has been, and will always be a very special place in the hearts and minds of the students that sat in those classrooms. She, along with several other teachers have established a lasting tradition of educational excellence and instilled a quality not found in direct text. It is an influential quality of encouragement to go beyond the common, whether that be personal achievement or pursuing the greater good that guides our hopes and active aim towards the better future....And for that, I tip the proverbial thinking cap to my Tanglewood teachers and to all the others around the world that make a positive difference in the lives of their students, and ultimately, our global community.
After all, kids are the future. They are the ones that help to expand our selfish time horizons beyond questions of whether or not we'll have comfortable retirements. They will either flourish from our successes or struggle to deal with the results of our shortcomings. And despite the fact that you never know what will happen from one generation to the next, they deserve our best – not massive debt, endless conflict, nuclear threat or many of the other numerous problems that beset this nation. Our “best” has been too inconsistent for too long. We have got to act with more smarts, try harder, and learn to compromise instead of balk and despise. Otherwise, the prospects of better days will surely begin to fade.
Surrounded by questioning second graders, I wondered about that future. But when one little girl said that she now wanted to walk across the state of North Carolina for the hungry people, those negative uncertainties seemed to vanish under what I guess to be the lingering light of hope and how you just never know.