Patricia McGuire
University president

Patricia McGuire

President of Trinity Washington University.

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Call to action

Q: Success stories don't get any better than the recent rescue of 33 miners in Chile who were trapped for 68 days. One miner said he now saw the world in a whole new way. Do you think that feeling will last? Have you ever had an experience, small or large, that changed the way you think about life? If so, how has your life changed since, and are you glad for it?

My history teacher was crying. The seniors in my high school class sat in stunned silence. "We won't have class today," said Mrs. Jordan softly. "Let's pray for the students at Kent State University. Let's talk about what they died for and what we must do about it."

We were in our last few weeks of high school, eagerly college-bound. Most of us in my all-girls high school outside of Philadelphia, Merion Mercy, were relatively conservative kids from strict Catholic families. In the late 1960s, the height of the Vietnam War era, the anti-war movement was something happening elsewhere involving scruffy hippies, at least from the perspectives we usually heard from our parents and teachers.

Protest was not something we good girls ever would do.

Or, so we thought, before Kent State. Hard to believe it's been 40 years since that terrible day when National Guard troops opened fire on a group of student protesters at Kent State University, killing four and wounding many others severely.

Those shots resonated far beyond that Ohio campus. In our small, relatively sheltered high school, the echoes of that gunfire stirred our latent activism. Mrs. Jordan's emotional tribute to the slain college students was a call to action.

Later that day, some of my friends and I went to the local shopping center and signed petitions to end the war, shocking ourselves with this small act of defiance. (We didn't put our real addresses for fear that our parents would find out!)

We talked among ourselves about the danger zones we were about to encounter --- college campuses. We couldn't wait. We imagined ourselves at the front lines of demonstrations, nobly carrying signs demanding an end to the war. Of course, we still put on our plaid skirts and kneesocks every day, but behind every gray blazer was a heart yearning to wear blue jeans and flannel, the uniform of the Student Movement.

Later on, in college, as I marched with other protesters on Pennsylvania Avenue, I often remembered that day in history class as the moment when I began to form my own political and social philosophy. The teacher's departure from the planned lesson had the greatest impact among all of her many classes. She gave us permission to think and act independently, to embrace the causes of justice and peace openly, to reveal our personal philosophies without fear.

Most of us will never face a life experience as utterly traumatic and heroic as the story of the Chilean miners. But all of us have places in our lives that can seem like dark caves where we hide from reality. In his classic philosophical treatise The Republic, Plato describes the journey from the dark cave of ignorance to the sunshine of truth.

Like the miners' rescuers, great teachers pull us along from the darkness into the light, giving us the power to help others do the same. A high school history teacher sparked a change in perspective that continues to illuminate my life.

By Patricia McGuire  |  October 25, 2010; 12:00 AM ET  | Category:  Success and adversity Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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