The Character of Our Country

The “fundamental principles of social justice and the character of our country…” This phrase continues to resonate with me having heard it a short while ago during President Obama’s address to Congress. I am drawn to President Obama’s speeches for both the thoughtful use of language and the powerful presentation he provides. In this instance, the President was quoting from a posthumously delivered letter received from Senator Ted Kennedy, the original King of Healthcare. Senator Kennedy wrote to ask that the President remember that the Healthcare debate “concerns more than material things.’ ‘What we face,’ he wrote, ‘is above all a moral issue; at stake are not just the details of policy, but fundamental principles of social justice and the character of our country.’

This call to action echoes another Kennedy and another great African American leader. Hearing these words this evening I cannot help but think of my Senior English, “Literature of Justice” course and the discussions lately among the students. Having just wrapped up reading Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.s’ text Why We Can’t Wait we are talking about how leadership skills and lessons can be derived from the example of his leadership in the 1960s Civil Rights movement. While looking at this more historically removed example, we are also discussing how to make simple day-to-day decisions that are “just” or reflect “the right thing.” Four days into class, we’ve only just started to touch the surface of these demanding topics.

Later this term and throughout this year, we will delve into more challenging issues of social justice and in our collective effort I hope to shift the youthful perspective away from “material things” that can distract deeper development of character. I hope to stir a calling in a similar way that the phrases uttered this evening stirred me.

Thinking ahead to graduation and what they might glean from our time together, I can only hope that they can keep in mind “the fundamental principles of social justice” and the relationship to their own character.

Best, John