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Four Years at the Mount

Reflecting upon our flag

June 2015

Re-discovering patriotism

Sarah Muir
MSM Class of 2018

I have always believed myself to be an old soul. I love black and white movies, vinyl, and record players. I enjoy reading age-old letters and looking at old pictures even if I do not know the people in them. But I am more than just fond of these things, you see, for they always have inspired a sense of nostalgia for a time period that I have never known and a place I have never been. What really strikes me about the past is the patriotism that seemed to spread like fire throughout the nation. You always see the pictures in history books and documentaries, groups of people with winning smiles, holding up pictures declaring victory or proudly waving flags and banners as parades marched past. I hardly see any of this nowadays. Sure, in our younger school days, we start with the Pledge of Allegiance and sports games begin with our National Anthem, but it seems as though most people just go through the motions, speaking the words without really noting or sometimes even caring what they are, or what actually had to take place for us to have them to say in the first place. If I am being one hundred percent honest, I did the same thing in school. I would stand up, place my hand over my heart, and quickly mumble the necessary words.

Take a moment to think about how far we have come as a country in the past two-hundred and thirty nine years. Sure we have had our fair share of discontent, hardships, and even injustices. We are still a far cry from perfect, but when put in perspective to other countries that have been building for far longer than we have, America has come a long way in a short amount of time. Unfortunately, we still have a long way to go. We still have some glitches in our system, but we forget we are still a relatively young country; we just need to grow into the large shoes that are forefathers gave us with formation the Declaration of Independence and our Bill of Rights.

The Declaration of Independence, for example, created in 1776, is a document that was extremely ahead of its time. If taken at face value, it can be seen as one of the most sincere governmental documents ever written. "All men are created equal… are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness." Of course, I will not transcribe to you the entirety of the document, but those first well-known and often recited words should suit my purpose. This document asserts from its beginning that all men are created equal; the document fails to specify race, age, or gender ("men" is a term that is used apply to human beings as a whole). This concept is extremely progressive, especially for the day and age in which it was written. The sentence itself is pretty straightforward; it allows for no exceptions or alternative interpretation: all men. The document continues by declaring that these same "men" establish the government to protect these rights, and since it is created by the people, it protects it from going against them.

Take a moment to consider what precisely this means. While our government may be somewhat imperfect, it is founded and framed on a perfect ideal. We have been blessed to have the freedoms we have, and though there is always room for improvement, we tend to take seemingly simple things like freedom of speech and religion for granted. As I am sure you remember from elementary school, the Bill of Rights protects freedoms such as these. It was formed in 1789 and ratified and added to the Constitution in 1791. It contains twelve amendments. They protect all the rights that we deem important, from representation and due process, to religion and speech. The unhappy truth is that there are places in this world where the term "all men" does not exist, where people are persecuted and oppressed for their beliefs, beaten down and at times, even killed, for expressing their opinions. While our government is still trying to meet these rather large expectations framed by our founding documents, we are lucky to even have them in the first place.

I always hear this sense of patriotism in a story my grandmother always told me. It was about my great-great grandmother, who was an immigrant from Poland like her husband. Her husband came to America later on in life, while she was brought by her family when she was a little girl. My great-great grandmother received her citizenship later on in life along with my great-great grandfather. They both spoke fluent Polish and kept a tight hold on their traditions, but in the stories I hear about them, they were overwhelmingly proud to be Americans. They flew the Stars and Stripes as high and as proud as any citizen of America should. When my great-great grandfather would start speaking in Polish, my great-great grandmother would turn to him and say, "No, we are in America, we will speak American."

This Flag Day, in honor of the Stars and Stripes, I encourage you to do at least one thing that is patriotic, whether this is volunteering at (or donating to) a Veteran’s Hospital or simply flying an American flag. I am waiting for an era of America that once again swells with pride at saying the Pledge of Allegiance or tears up, like my grandmother does, when those opening lyrics of "Oh! Say can you see…" can be heard.

Read other articles by Sarah Muir

The culture of the flag

Leeanne Leary
Class of 2017

By the time this article is published and this issue of the Emmitsburg News-Journal is distributed, I will be in Bulgaria experiencing what I’m expecting will feel like an entirely different world. In preparation for this overseas training, I had to do a lot of at-home culture training online. During our first culture training activity we were given this prompt:

"When you go overseas, things can get chaotic and unpredictable. Find or make a video about something that is important to you. Something that will help you stay grounded to your own culture. Post/upload/link that video here so we can all watch it. Tell us how the subject of the video will help you stay connected to your own culture. Also predict how people from your target nation would interpret your words/action if you are/were in your video. Would what keeps you grounded confuse them, make them smile...?"

Before I looked at the given example, I started to search the Internet and think about what reminds me of home. I came up with a few ideas, from local restaurants to different foods, but nothing reminded me of my culture as an American as much as it did a Pennsylvania resident or something even less significant. My next move was to view the example answer that was provided to us, a link to a YouTube video showing a group of soldiers raising the American flag. It would be really cool to say I was immediately sold; of course the flag is the answer! But I wasn’t. I was skeptical because shouldn’t a person or an experience be more of a reminder of our American culture than a flag? After all, we are the land of the free, the country of experience and new beginnings and more. We are the original melting pot, the home of expansion, and all of our individual experiences are vastly different. How can a flag encompass all of that?

I feel like I end up saying this in the majority of my articles, but I hope this isn’t taken the wrong way. I know how symbolic our flag is. I have seen it flown with pride at school every day of my life; I have seen it flown at half-staff after a tragedy; I have seen it given to the wife of a deceased service member; I have looked at it as I recited the Pledge of Allegiance for a large majority of my life; I have saluted it in uniform as the National Anthem played before a football game; I have seen it plastered all over houses and yards for Memorial Day and especially around the 4th of July; I have held it as a member of the color guard as a crowded gymnasium stands before a basketball game. Once I started to think about it, the flag is reminiscent of most experiences I’ve had. It isn’t just a piece of cloth with three colors and shapes; as a country, we have turned it into a true symbol of the American experience.

Most of us learned the story of Betsy Ross in elementary school and most of us remember the story of our flag that way. Betsy Ross finished the flag before July of 1776, but it wasn’t adopted as the National Flag until June 14, 1777; herein lies the origins of the Flag Day that we will be celebrating in a few short weeks. The flag was adopted during a time characterized by a search for national pride and unity. The Continental Congress determined that the flag should be thirteen stripes with thirteen white stars against a blue background, and so it began this way.

By looking at our flag’s beginnings, we can see how far we’ve come and simultaneously see how closely we remain to the original vision. We still fly the same flag; all that is different is the number of stars. The flag has truly fulfilled its original purpose – to provide a sense of unity. The best example of this unity that I have experienced comes from being a member of the ROTC Color Guard at the Mount. I first participated in the Color Guard this past winter at a men’s basketball game where I was tasked with carrying the American flag.

We are a team of four and we carry two rifles, the Maryland Flag, and the American Flag. We step onto the court at 6:50pm for a 7:00pm game and wait until the teams finish warmups and the buzzer goes off as the scoreboard clock reaches 0:00. Both teams line up facing center court and the entire gymnasium goes silent as all attention is turned to the color guard team and the flags waiting in the corner. This sounds incredibly dramatic, I realize this, but it truly happens precisely that way. It is a learned practice, and as a country that puts as much emphasis on sporting events as we do, no one needs to be told to turn to the flag as the teams line up. The silence is almost never tested, proven through the sound of our shoes on the gym floor as we walk to center court. It’s almost like when you are trying to sneak downstairs to get a midnight snack but the stairs are suddenly creaky in places they never have been before. Our footsteps are the only sound in the gym until we turn and the National Anthem begins to play.

At this time the rifles are presented and the Maryland flag is lowered, but the American Flag remains upright as some remove their hats, some put their hands over their hearts, and some just stand still, but everyone looks upon the flag. When the Anthem ends and we exit the gym, the sound resumes and the announcers prepare for the starting lineups, but for a few minutes there is a true sense of unity surrounding the flag. This small example of an NEC basketball game is repeated every day in much larger settings, and always this same sense of unity occurs for a few short minutes.

In this I believe we can all see how the original purpose of the flag has been fulfilled, and here we finally come full circle and I return to the original prompt, now convinced that the American flag is the perfect reminder of our culture as Americans. In its 13 stripes and 50 stars there is a story for everyone. We don’t all have the same story, but the same flag represents us all, and that is what allows the flag to truly represent our nation in all of our differences and similarities. So I think that even across the ocean and worlds away, the image of the American flag could keep anyone grounded to this culture, and suddenly Flag Day seems to hold a lot more importance than I ever realized.

Read other articles by Leeanne Leary

Forever flying freely

Katie Powell
MSM Class of 2015

A little less than a month ago, I walked into the library and approached a group of individuals I had never met before, a task that is more daunting to me than anyone will ever come to understand. The man opposite me at the top of the circle commanded their attention, which he immediately threw at me upon my appearance. "Who are you?" he asked. I kind of smiled and stared at him for a split second before I registered the phrase as a question. "Oh," I mustered, "I’m Katie, the new senior writer." In about thirty seconds flat, Michael Hillman had debriefed me on my new position, leaving me bewildered, but determined to succeed.

Allow me to introduce myself. My name is Katie Powell, and as I mentioned, I am the new senior writer for the Four Years at the Mount column. I am thrilled to have been given this opportunity, and I cannot wait to share my world with you all. I am a health science major at the Mount, and my focus is in occupational therapy with a minor in psychology. After my final year, I plan to attend graduate school to complete my degree and then enter the workforce. During my time at the Mount I have held many positions around campus. I am a Mount Presidential Ambassador, which allows me to share my love for the Mount with prospective students through campus tours.

I am also an Ambassador for Leadership. As part of the new Veritas curriculum at the Mount, every senior must complete an e-folio page and make a presentation to a committee of faculty and students about their time at the Mount. My job as an Ambassador is to sit in on these presentations and give students advice during the process of preparing their e-folios and presentations.

In addition to these positions, I have been a member of the women’s swim team at the Mount throughout the last three years, and I am excited to finish out my career as a senior this year. I am a distance swimmer, meaning my events range from 200 to 1,650 meters. Training at the Division 1 level requires a 20-hour weekly time commitment, but swimming has been such a huge part of my life that I cannot imagine not competing.

Through swimming, I have had the opportunity to be involved in the Student Athletic Advisory Committee (SAAC), which exists on the national level in all NCAA schools. This past year, it was my responsibility to come up with community service initiatives for the student athletes at the Mount, and then help plan and execute them. I also helped advertise for other events that SAAC was hosting. These events include fundraisers, clothing drives, informative or inspirational talks, and entertainment.

A final thing to know about me is that I am a homebody at heart. My family is the most important to me, and my roots run deep in South Jersey, and I defend my home state to the death, as any good Jersey-ite should. My parents are both teachers, and my dad taught AP US History II for many years. We have always flown a flag in front of our yard, and we’ve received many a mini history lesson on D-Day, Labor Day, Memorial Day and — you guessed it —Flag Day. Every year we’d watch the documentaries on the History Channel or get our lecture on what it means, and my sister Kelsey and I would look at each other and roll our eyes.

This year, Flag Day has taken on a greater significance to my family and me than it ever has. My younger sister contracted with the Army in January, halfway through her freshman year at Widener University. After graduation, she will be an officer in the United States Army.

Flag Day is meant to be a day to commemorate the adoption of the United States flag we see today. Flag Day to me has always been a reminder of the sacrifice that our ancestors have made in order for us to have that flag and the freedom it represents. From now on, it will be a reminder of the sacrifice that my own sister is making to defend our flag and our nation.

Kelsey’s current status is as a contracted Army ROTC cadet at Widener, which is the host school for the dauntless battalion. Upon graduation, she will commission as a 2LT in the United States Army. She will be an officer, meaning she will be leading enlisted women and men.

Because of the military’s personal significance to my family now, I decided to discuss with Kelsey how Flag Day is viewed and treated by the military. Her immediate response: "In the military, every day is Flag Day," she snickered.

She admitted that she was unsure about any actual Flag Day events, but explained further that the military avoids specialized behaviors on specific days, so they honor the flag every day. For example, there is a ceremony at sunset every single day to lower the colors properly, which is done in militant style, ending with the folding of the flag into its traditional triangle shape, all with uniformed cadets saluting. Kelsey claimed that if a cadet is in uniform, they always salute the flag as they pass by.

Before getting involved in Air Force Junior ROTC in high school, Kelsey’s feelings toward Flag Day were probably no different from any other 14 year-old. She did the class activities, colored in the flag pictures, probably listened to the "Midnight Ride of Paul Revere" poem every year of elementary school, but never felt a personal connection to the flag. She recognized it as being important, but didn’t understand why a flag needed its own day. Five years later, many of her thoughts about the flag have changed. Joining the ROTC program changed her perspective entirely.

"Since joining and contracting, I felt a wave of obligation and commitment over me to protect and honor the flag," she explained. One of Kelsey’s greatest adventures will be this coming June when she attends a cadet training camp, during which she will get to experience Flag Day with the military, while training to better protect the American flag.

Kelsey credits her military science classes with giving her newfound appreciation for the flag. "Our flag is the symbol of our freedom, the freedom I plan on defending as an Army officer," she stated. Her military science classes provide her with not only the knowledge she needs to become an officer, but also the importance of the army values, respect, and loyalty. These values are instilled into each and every officer and enlisted soldier, and they give Flag Day special meaning. These individuals have signed their lives away to protect this nation, and they are willing to make the ultimate sacrifice.

Kelsey clarified, "To so many, the flag is a symbol that fills them with pride, as it reminds them of what they are fighting for, what they are truly defending."

The flag was born from rebellion, in a time where American soldiers were renegades. This nation was built upon the backs of battle-broken men and shell-shocked soldiers returning from the warfront, with nothing but a burning desire to change the status quo fueling their conquests. Soldiers feel a duty to protect the flag’s stars and stripes and keep them forever flying freely.

Read other articles by Katie Powell

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