Historic Day on Lopez Island

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The second Saturday of June comes close to being a Lopez Island holiday. That’s high school graduation day, and it’s a community event. This year was no exception, but the celebration was exceptional for at least five reasons. That’s the number of graduates in the Class of 2017, the smallest class in nearly fifty years.

Those five (and their families) organized the celebration, maintaining many of the ceremony’s traditions—and adding a few twists. smiles.jpgAs usual, the students wore black caps and gowns as they entered the gymnasium. More than one mortarboard listed to the side as the graduates strolled through an arbor, a local bagpiper setting the pace. And as always, the audience remained standing through the Star Spangled Banner, this year played by one of the honorees on an electric guitar, Jimi Hendrix-style.

While there might be disadvantages to such a small class size, a number of benefits were evident. Instead of just one student speaker, all five addressed the crowd. Each of their short speeches included gratitude for feeling part of this community, whether they’d lived here since infancy or arrived in the past year or two. As one newcomer said, “I felt this was home.” One of the teachers spoke about each student as well, identifying their individual strengths and growth, as well as their commitment to question and understand. Two of them want to become carpenters, two plan to study engineering, and one hopes to work as an EMT or paramedic.

I sat near the back of the audience, watching family members nod their heads and smile, just as I had done seventeen years earlier for my own kids. I could tell that a man sitting in the front row was listening intently, jotting notes, and reveling in the celebration along with everyone else. The student who had written him to ask if he’d give the graduation address said, “Please welcome Governor Jay Inslee,” and the audience rose to their feet and applauded as he bounded up the steps of the stage.

Governor Inslee is no stranger to island communities; he’s from Bainbridge Island, and his father spent much time in his final years on Lopez. The governor expressed his pleasure at being invited and then made a claim that is hard to dispute. “Pound for pound, this is the best class in history,” he said.

Evidently, the governor likes making history. He did so recently when he joined the governors of California and New York to form the U.S. Climate Alliance to uphold the Paris Accord. As of June 7, twelve states and Puerto Rico have joined the alliance, and ten more governors plus the District of Columbia have expressed support. This Washingtonian appreciates Governor Inslee’s leadership on climate change and many other issues. From the cheers and whistles from the crowd, many of my fellow Lopezians do, too.

But he received the most thunderous applause for his follow-up to the historic nature of the small graduating class. He stood a little straighter at the podium and looked out to the crowd. “I’m the first governor in history,” he boomed, “to speak at a graduation wearing a shirt I picked out at the Take-It-Or-Leave-It, thirty-five minutes before the ceremony!” The crowd’s reaction made it clear everyone understood that the Washington governor had gone to our local recycling center at “the dump” to find the blue-and-white-checked shirt he wore under his navy blue suit jacket.

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courtesy Lopez Solid Waste Program

He showed further knowledge of the island when he spoke about waving to all cars, a practice that’s earned Lopez the title of “The Friendly Isle.” He urged the Class of 2017 to use that Friendly Isle awareness to go out to “create a Friendly World.”

The tone grew more serious, though, as the governor reminded us all, “This class faces a threat no other generation has.” He then offered a mini-lesson in what some call climate change’s equally evil twin—ocean acidification. The release of carbon dioxide from industrial and agricultural activities has changed seawater chemistry throughout the world. Inslee’s message included the sobering fact that over the past 200 years, the Salish Sea that surrounds our island has become 30% more acidic. According to the Smithsonian, that’s faster than any known change in ocean chemistry in the last 50 million years.

It will take more than wearing recycled clothes to restore the ocean’s chemical balance (though every effort helps). I suspect that these five graduates will be among those of their generation working to make the sea—and the world—more friendly. THAT will also make history.

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Photo courtesy Lopez Island School District

*Afterthought #64: Protectors of the Salish Sea

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Photo from Protectors of the Salish Sea Facebook Page

In February this year, I wrote about standing up for the Salish Sea with the Friends of the San Juans at the Washington State capitol. There’s still much standing up—and protecting—to do, and I’m grateful to the opponents of the Kinder Morgan pipeline who recently marched for four days in the Walk 4 the Salish Sea in British Columbia.

I couldn’t join these protesters in person, but my heart was with them. Now I’m catching up on news of this latest effort to stop the expansion of the Kinder Morgan pipeline.

http://walk4salishsea.ca/category/news/

http://www.straight.com/news/916046/images-walk-4-salish-sea

This is just one more issue needing our attention. If it calls to you, please add your voice.

 

*Afterthoughts are my blog version of a practice followed in some Quaker meetings. After meeting for worship ends, people continue in silence for a few more minutes during which they’re invited to share thoughts or reflect on the morning’s worship. I’ve adopted the form here for last-day-of-the-month brief reflections on headlines, quotes, books, previous posts, maybe even bumper stickers.

To Cherish the Silence

In my last post, I confessed to not knowing enough about history. But one historical event I learned a fair bit about returned to me as I watched “Profound Silence”— a recent episode of QuakerSpeak—featuring Jane Fernandes, President of Guilford College. Guilford, in Greensboro, NC, is a liberal arts college guided by Quaker testimonies. FernandesWhen Jane, who is deaf, became Guilford’s ninth president in 2014, she had the distinction of being the first woman to hold the post. She also was the first deaf woman to lead an American college or university.

In the interview, Jane speaks and signs about her introduction to Quakerism. Although she was raised a Catholic, when she attended an unprogrammed Quaker meeting for the first time, she loved it. “For me, as a deaf person,” Jane says, “it’s rare when a group of people wants to cherish silence. It is rare.”

Jane was born deaf, to a mother who was also deaf, so she knows a great deal about silence. But her encounters with Quaker worship led to new awareness about her experience of being silent with others. “I’ve not been in a group of people that understands that, and a group of hearing people who strive to be in that state that I was born in.”

There’s a great deal that hearing people don’t understand about deafness, and that’s where Jane’s story and my history lesson intersect.

My husband is a sign language interpreter and has worked for over twenty years with children and adults who are deaf. He first started in the field at Seattle Central Community College’s Interpreter Training Program in 1981. Between his studies and work, he became friends with many people in Seattle’s large deaf community. I tagged along to social gatherings, fumbling with limited signing skills and relying on him to interpret. Along the way, I learned about some of the civil rights struggles of people who are deaf. One of them centered on a renowned school for deaf students, Gallaudet University in Washington, DC.Gallaudet

In March 1988, when the University’s Board of Trustees announced that a hearing person had been selected as Gallaudet’s seventh president, many Gallaudet students, alumni, staff, and faculty organized a protest. Their “Deaf President Now” campaign shut down the campus and raised awareness about the injustice of selecting the lone hearing candidate, Elisabeth A. Zinser, from a field of three finalists, two of whom were deaf. The protesters also presented four demands to the Board of Trustees:

  1. Elisabeth Zinser must resign and a deaf person selected president;
  2. Jane Spilman must step down as chairperson of the Board of Trustees;
  3. Deaf people must constitute a 51% majority on the Board; and
  4. There would no reprisals against any student or employee involved in the protest.

By the end of the week, the students ended their protest; all their demands had been met, Dr. I. King Jordan was named Gallaudet’s eighth- and first-deaf president, and Philip Bravin was selected at the Board of Trustees’ first deaf chairperson. Since Jordan’s selection, all subsequent presidents have been deaf. Incidentally, prior to her appointment at Guilford, Jane Fernandes was found to be “not deaf enough” to serve at Gallaudet. She was raised orally and didn’t learn sign language until she was in graduate school.

And here’s another interesting twist in history’s cycle. Gallaudet’s current president, Roberta J. Cordano, assumed her position January 1, 2016, making her Gallaudet’s first deaf woman president—and likely the second deaf woman (after Jane Fernandes) to lead an American university or college.

I’m grateful that I can hear and that I haven’t suffered the same effects of being silenced that deaf folks have (though I know something of the ways women continue to be muted). But when I quiet myself and sit with others doing the same, I’m most open to the Divine. Along with Jane, I cherish the silence.

Don’t Know Enough About History

I can easily recall a scene played out many afternoons when I was in elementary school. I’d sway forward and backward on the porch swing, my feet pushing off against the wood deck. A classmate sat in a lawn chair facing me, quizzing me on dates and battles for an upcoming history test. Forward, then back, the rhythm helping me lodge facts in my brain, at least long enough to pass the test.

sam cookeThat’s how I remember history classes in elementary and high school—memorizing dates, mostly of wars, and the names of men who led those wars. No analysis, few references to women, and no questions about whether anything was left out. To paraphrase Sam Cooke in “What a Wonderful World,” I don’t know much about history.

 

Kenneth C. Davis, author of Don’t Know Much books for adults and children, has written for more than twenty-five years out of the belief that Americans don’t hate history, they just experience a dull version of it in school. While that is true for me, I’ve been aware for too long that what I DO know about history isn’t enough for me to be a responsive and responsible citizen.

history (1)Longer ago than I care to admit, I resolved to fill some of the gaps in my knowledge of U.S. history. I haven’t read Davis’s numerous “don’t know much about…” history books, but this claim makes them sound engaging: “…busting myths, setting the record straight, and always remembering that fun is not a four-word letter word.”

historyWhat I am making my way through—slowly—is A People’s History of the United States by Howard Zinn. At nearly 700 pages, the latest edition covers 1492 through President Clinton’s first term. Zinn’s approach, however, is different from any of the history books I studied in school. He tells America’s story from the point of view of—and in the words of—America’s women, factory workers, African-Americans, Native Americans, the working poor, and immigrant laborers. The battles he researched and wrote about include the fights for a fair wage, an eight-hour workday, child-labor laws, health and safety standards, universal suffrage, women’s rights, and racial equality.

Historian David McCullough describes history as “an aid to navigation in such troubled uncertain times. … All problems have histories and the wisest route to a successful solution to nearly any problem begins with understanding its history. Indeed, almost any attempt to solve a problem without an understanding of its history is to court failure — an example, our tragic plunge into Vietnam with hardly a notion of its past.” When John Avlon recently wrote about McCullough in The Daily Beast, he suggested that, “reading American history is an act of resistance.” I agree, and I have a lot of reading to do. I believe that if we all knew more about history, what a wonderful world it would be.

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