When I left my room at four in the morning to leave for Alaska, I expected a lot of things: It would be cold, maybe I’d see snow, I’d get to learn about a new culture, work in a school, and maybe see some whales or the aurora borealis. And except for the last two, I did all of these things–but one thing I didn’t expect to learn about was names.
Names mean a lot to me: As a writer, a character’s name (or lack thereof) can be the most defining element to a story. As a leader, learning the names of my fellow students is not only a great way to attract new members, but also to establish a genuine sense of community in our group. And as a gay man in a world where marriage equality seems inevitable only a few short years after it seemed impossible, I’ll someday have to choose my name, his name, or a strained attempt at something in between.
But as I learned in Alaska, the power of names doesn’t end there.
It’s no secret I love learning, but if you press me to share the most memorable moments that made learning come alive, each of them would share a common theme: a teacher who inspired me. My favorite Hebrew school teachers were understanding and compassionate, sharing stories of living in Israel and talking to us in Hebrew. My favorite math teachers humanized abstract concepts and spoke to us as equals, helping us not only to learn, but to love. My political science teachers have made dull topics exciting by impersonating polar bears flopping around on the ice or breaking the tension with a sarcastic comment that leads the class into laughter; writing teachers have given encouragement, honest feedback, and shown an intimate interest in helping me to grow.
It is no small task, the work and effort I’ve put into my education at every level–from my earliest memories of being homeschooled through today–but if not for the passion my teachers showed me, all of this would have meant nothing.
So wouldn’t it be amazing, if only for a few days, I could inspire others as much as my teachers have inspired me?
It hasn’t even been a week since I’ve been back and it already feels like my trip to Cherokee was ages ago. This has been a long week in terms of assignments, and with NC Pride this weekend and classes grinding to a brief halt next week for fall break before I’m bombarded with another round of tests, I can’t but imagine this’ll be a long weekend. Indeed, like last weekend, I expect it will be over too quickly.
On Saturday night we all went to a buffet for some home-made southern cooking (and let me tell you, it was delicious). As we were leaving, it suddenly occurred to me that after morning came, we would be returning to the nonstop, chaotic world centered about N.C. State but extending throughout all Western civilization.
And when I realized that, I knew I’d miss being in Cherokee.
The tears of yesterday set aside, with reflections upon language and leadership already considered, I can speak perhaps of but two final topics–the first I shall address tonight, and the other tomorrow.
It’s another special day today actually. It is the fiftieth anniversary of Rachel Carson’s novel Silent Spring, the book that has been credited with the start of the modern environmental movement. Now, I’m not going to speak about the environmental movement today, but it will suffice for a wonderful starting point–and if before this you hadn’t heard of Rachel Carson, I encourage you to learn more about her.
When our second day began, we took a short walk from our motel to the Museum of the Cherokee Indian across the street. After pausing for pictures outside, we ventured into the unassuming building and gathered in a small room where we saw a creation story animated before us. From there, the world opened up.
I’d like to think it’s not the only thing opening up today.
Yesterday I began talking about my trip this to Cherokee, North Carolina. It began in various forms more than a week ago and was influenced in many ways by events I had at first thought completely unrelated. When the trip began, we were all still just starting to get to know each other–and that’s where I’d like to pick up today.
This past weekend was in a few words amazing. In many words, it was too great to mention in only one sitting.
It began with a flier I saw on the doors to my residence hall: Cherokee Diversity Trip! Apply Now! I just barely missed the information session (I came stumbling back from a long night of Parkour when I realized…oh, wait, there was something else happening tonight), but I ran to catch the last few minutes and then stayed a few minutes longer to (very gratefully) get filled in on the things I had missed.
That weekend, I wrote my application. I hadn’t made a wondrous first-impression (Parkour is exhausting, and sweat isn’t exactly flattering), but I hoped my words would say enough.