Our American Moment
Gary James ’10 - With more time to take in the nation’s capital, our group went on a tour of the Reynolds Center for American Art and Portraiture and the National Archives during Sunday. That night, a few of us traced a route that began at the Washington Monument and ended at the Vietnam Memorial. The tours – both at day and at night – highlighted the dynamism and richness of American history and reinforced the exciting reality that we reside temporarily at the focal point of most of that history: Washington, DC. The Reynolds Center featured gallery after gallery of paintings, statues, sculptures, busts, and displays of George Washington and all other presidents, abolitionists, leaders of the suffrage movement, civil war generals and artifacts, and even Steven Colbert.
At the National Archive, we all saw exhibitions on power brokers caricatured in political cartoons and watched a short film about the personal impacts of discoveries in the archives. But hands down, the most memorable part of the visit to the National Archive was viewing the Declaration of Independence, the original Constitution, and the Bill of Rights. That moment – with all of us assembled in a spacious rotunda with large murals depicting scenes of the founding – was the climax of the day. Having seen disparate dispensations of American political and social life, the viewing of our nation’s founding documents brought it all together and brought home the ideas of American exceptionalism, endurance, and strength.Those ideas were illuminated more aesthetically during our trek to the monuments and memorials Sunday night. It seems impossible to appreciate the full scale of the Washington Monument without standing directly under it. It’s a giantess peering over the lake on the national mall, leading up to the Lincoln Memorial. I’ve been to DC before, but I’ve never visited the Lincoln Memorial. It took me a while to contextualize the moment. We were standing in front of a monument in honor of a president who brought a divided nation together to reject slavery. Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered his “I Have A Dream” speech in front of the Lincoln Memorial and set out his vision of an America with reduced racial tension. And I, a sophomore at Wabash College from the South and a beneficiary of both men’s work, was wearing a t-shirt in support of presidential candidate and Illinois Senator Barack Obama.
I was wistful and proud to be in Washington, DC, where all that is America converges. And I was anxiously awaiting our crash course in the operations our government scheduled to commence the next day.
First Picture: Andrew Newkirk '08 looking at a Colt Revolver in the Civil War Gallery of the Reynolds Center.
Second Picture: Jared Graber '11, Dr. Hadley, and Michael Hotz '08 looking at historical American documents.
Third Picture: Silhouette of Michael Hotz '08 near the Lincoln Memorial.