May 16, 2014

On May 16, 2014, a friend and I saw First Lady Michelle Obama present a graduation speech to the High School graduates in Topeka, Kansas.

There was much controversy about the event on the ground in Topeka, also commemorating the 60th anniversary of the Brown v. Board of Education decision to desegregate schools. Her speech opened my heart and mind, and brought me to tears.

I can’t think of anything of a time more pertinent to remember this, then the time we are in now.

Following is the transcript of the speech, and a link to the video. An ellipses indicates a points of cheering when her words are indecipherable from my audio recording.

Thank you, and I love you, too.

 

 

It is beyond a pleasure and an honor, to be here with you today to celebrate the class of 2014. Thank you so much for having me. I am so proud of you guys.

A day like this makes me think of my own daughters, so forgive me if I get a little teary.

We have a great group of students here. We have students from Highland Park High School, we have Avondale Academy students here today, Topeka High School is here, and of course we have Topeka West High.

Tomorrow will be a big day for all of you. You have worked so hard, I can tell, you have come so far. When you walk across that stage tomorrow to get your diploma, know that I will be thinking of you all.

I am so proud of you all, and all that you have achieved thus far. And you have got so many people here who are proud of you tonight. Your families are here, your teachers and counselors, your coaches – everyone who has poured their love and hope to you over these many, many years.

Let’s take a moment to give a round of applause to those folks as well. Thank you.

(more thanks to people on the stage)

About Brown v. Board, you have approached this issue past present and future, and I think that it is fitting that we are celebrating this historic Supreme Court case tonight. Not just because Brown started right here in Topeka, or because Brown’s 60th anniversary is tomorrow, but because I believe that all of you who are soon to be graduates – you all are the living, breathing legacy of this case. Yes.

Look around – not only are you beautiful and handsome and talented and smart but you represent all colors and cultures and faiths here tonight. You come from all walks of life and you have taken so many different paths to reach this moment.

Maybe your ancestors have been here in Kansas for centuries; or maybe, like mine, they came to this country in chains; or maybe your family just arrived here in search of a better life. But no matter how you got here, you have arrived at this day today together.

For so many years you have all studied together in the same classrooms, played on the same teams, attended the same parties, and hopefully you’ve behaved yourselves at these parties. You’ve debated each other’s ideas hearing every possible opinion and perspective, you’ve heard each others languages in hallways – English, Spanish, and others all mixed together in a uniquely American conversation. You’ve celebrated each other’s holidays and heritages. In fact, I was told that in one of your schools so many students who weren’t Black wanted to join the Black Students Club and you decided to call it the African American Cultural Club, so that everyone would feel welcome.

It is clear that some of the most important parts of your education have come not just from your classes, but from you classmates, and ultimately, that was the hope and dream of Brown. That’s why we’re celebrating here tonight.

Now the fact is, that your experience here in Topeka would have been unimaginable back in 1954. When Brown v. Board of Education first went to the Supreme Court, this would not be possible. As you all know back then Topeka like so many cities was segregated. So black folks and white folks had separate restaurants, separate hotels, separate movie theaters, swimming pools, and of course the elementary schools were segregated, too. Even though many black children lived just blocks away from white schools in their neighborhoods, they had to take long bus rides to all black schools across town.

So eventually a group of Black parents go tired of this arrangement and they decided to do something about it. Now these were ordinary folks. Most of them were not Civil Rights activists, and some of them were probably nervous about speaking up, worried they might cause trouble for themselves and their families. And the truth is that while the black schools were far away, the facilities were pretty decent, and the teachers were excellent, but eventually these parents went to court to desegregate their children’s schools because, as one of the children later explained, as an adult, she said: we were talking about the principle of the thing. Now think about that for a moment. Those folks had to go all the way to the Supreme Court of the United States just to affirm the principle that Black kids and White kids could attend school together.

And today, 60 years later, that probably seems crazy to all of you in this graduating class, right? You all take the diversity you are surrounded by for granted. You probably don’t even notice it. And that’s understandable given the country you have grown up in.

With a woman governor, a Latina Supreme Court Justice, a Black president.

You’ve seen Black coaches win Super Bowls. You’ve watched TV shows and characters of every background. So, when you watch a show like The Walking Dead – you don’t think it’s about a Black guy, a Black woman, an Asian guy, a gay couple and some White people? You think it’s about a bunch of folks trying to escape some Zombies, right? Period.

And now when some folks got all worked up about a cereal commercial with an interracial family, you all were probably thinking, really? What’s the problem with that?

When folks made a big deal about Jason Collins and (…) coming out as gay, you probably thought, what is the issue here?

If someone would say something racist on Twitter, well than I would imagine many of you would Tweet right back, letting them know that’s just not cool.

You see, when you grow up in a place like Topeka, where diversity is all you’ve ever known, the old prejudices just don’t make any sense. See it’s crazy to think that folks of the same race or ethnicity all think or act the same way because you actually know those folks. They are your teammates, your lab partner, your best friend. They’re the girl whose obsessed with the Jayhawks but still loves Topeka…

And these issues go well beyond the walls of our schools. We know that today in America, too many folks are still stopped on the street because of the color of their skin. They are made to feel unwelcomed because of where they come from or they are bullied because of who they love.

So graduates, the truth is that Brown v Board is not just about our history, it’s about our future. Because while that case was handed down 60 years ago Brown is still being decided every single day. Not just in our courts and schools, but in how we live our lives. Now laws may no longer separate us based on our skin color, but nothing in the Constitution says that we have to eat together in the lunch rooms, or live together in the same neighborhoods, there’s no court case against in believing in stereotypes or thinking that certain kinds of hateful jokes or comments are funny.

So the answers of many of our challenges today can’t necessarily be found in our laws. These changes also need to take place in our hearts, and in our minds.

And so graduates, it’s up to all of you to lead the way. To drag my generation and your grandparents generation along with you. And that’s really my challenge to all of you today.

As you go forth, when you encounter folks who still hold the old prejudices because they’ve only been around folks like themselves, when we meet folks who think they know the answers because they’ve never heard any other viewpoints. It’s up to you to help them see things differently.

And the good news is that you probably won’t have to bring a law suite or go all the way to the Supreme Court to do that. You all can make a difference every day in your own lives, simply be teaching others the lessons you’ve learned here in Topeka.

Maybe that starts simply in your own family. When Grandpa tells that off color joke at Thanksgiving, or you got an Aunt that talks about “those people,” well you can politely inform them that they are talking about your friends. Or maybe when you go off to college, and you decide to join a sorority or fraternity, and you ask the question: How can we get more diversity in our next pledge class? Or years from now on the job, and you are the one who asks do we really have all the voices and viewpoints we need at this table? Maybe it’s when you have kids of your own one day, and you go to your School Board meeting, and insist on integrating your children’s schools and giving them the resources they need.

But no matter what you do, the point is to never be afraid to talk about these issues, particularly the issue of race because even today we still struggle to do that because this issue is so sensitive, it’s so complicated, it’s so bound up with a painful history, and we need your generation to help us break through. We need all of you to ask the hard questions and have the honest conversations because that is the only way we will heal the wounds of the past and move forward to a better future.

And here’s the thing – the stakes simply couldn’t be higher, because as a nation we have some serious challenges on our plate. From creating jobs, to curing diseases, to giving every child in this country a good education. And we know – we don’t even know – where the next break through, where the next great discovery will come from.

Maybe the solution to global warming will come from that girl whose parents don’t speak a word of English, but whose been acing her science classes since kindergarten. Maybe an answer to poverty will come from a boy from the projects who understands this issue like no one else. So we need to bring everyone to the table. We need every voice in our national conversation.

So graduates, that is your mission. To make sure all those voices are heard, to make sure everyone in this country has a chance to contribute.

And I’m not going to lie to you, this will not be easy – you might have to ruffle a few feathers, and believe me folks might not like what you have to say, and there will be times when you will get frustrated, or discouraged. But whenever I start to feel that way, I take a step back and remind myself of all the progress I’ve seen in my short lifetime.

I think about my Mother who as a little girl went to segregated schools in Chicago and felt the sting of discrimination. I think about my husband’s grand-parents, White folks born and raised right here in Kansas, (…) those are honest people who help raised their biracial grandson, ignoring those who would criticize that child’s very existence, and how then that child grew up to be the President of the United States of America

I think about the story of a woman named Lucinda Todd, who was the very first parent to sign onto Brown v. Board of Education. Lucinda’s daughter, Nancy, went to one of the all black schools here in Topeka, and Lucinda Todd traveled across this state raising money for this case, determined to give her daughter and all our sons and daughters the education they deserve. And today, 6 decades later, Mrs. Todd’s grandniece, a young woman named Kristen Jarvis, works as my right hand woman in the White House.

So, if you ever stop and get tired, if you ever think about giving up, I want you to remember that journey from a segregated school in Topeka all the way to the White House.

Folks who make their claim in this community we call America can choose our better history. Every day, you have the power to choose our better history by opening your hearts and minds, by speaking out for what you know is right, by sharing the lessons of Brown v Board of Education, the lessons you all learned right here in Topeka wherever you go, for the rest of your lives. I know you all can do it. I am so proud of all that you have accomplished. This is your day. I’m here because of you. And I cannot wait to see everything you have achieved in the years ahead. So congratulations once again to the class of 2014.

I love you.

 

Video of the speech

 

Endless

I am poised to write – ready to go with a blank page and a blinking curser. But, what to write about?

The possibilities are endless. I could write about the long tongue of a giraffe curling around a leaf of lettuce held in my hand, or the dangerous seductiveness of a Midwest thunderstorm, or the masterfulness of Truman Capote.

There is the image of the Taj Mahal to describe, or the space of the Sahara, or the expression on someone’s face when something bad just struck.

I could write about the mosque alarm clock I bought in Syria that brought back childhood memories of a friend who brought the exact clock to show-and-tell, or how my boyfriend found three ticks on his body yesterday after we went shooting and I am worried because I found none, or how my mom just sent me the new Coldplay CD.

There is the meaning of life to embrace, the urge of not residing in the moment to contemplate, the fear of losing control to consider.

I can write about the gratitude of waking from a bad dream, or the shame of accidentally pushing a toddler in the sand as he cried reaching toward his mom, or the relief from taking a deep breath – accepting that what happened was true, and that I can live with it because I will.

There is the warmth of the sun, the healing of a drop of Neosporin, the truth of a smile.

The possibilities are endless.

Dirty Thirty

On the last day of my thirtieth year…hmmm…I woke up, dealt with insurance, took Big Dog on a walk, dealt with insurance again (then again), heard the thunder, cried with it, made a Yumm Bowl lunch, went to the store, went to David’s Bridal to pick up a bridesmaid dress, and now I sit here – writing.

Around the days celebrating our birth, we can feel reflective – what composed the last year, what emerging intentions we might have for this new beginning. Lest we forget, there are always new beginnings.

So this last year – thirty – was an amazing year. It wasn’t the easily AMAAAZING year that we sometimes have, but it was true and enlightening and funny and hard.

The fall bulged with colors on our street – red and green and yellow – mixed with sweat and the fading sound of cicadas.

Thirty, for me, culminated in a Midwest winter with North Winds and crazy amounts of snow. It slapped me in the face – wake up – she said – I did this so you don’t have any distractions, so you can face what you need to face in exposed cold.

And I did, and I still am.

The ice gave way to spring – to green everywhere. Then twisters (change) and fireflies (magic) and wheat (acceptance).

If anything, on the even of turning thirty-one, this last year was a year. It was a big year.

Haar

It’s softly dropping mist this evening in Topeka, after a previous night of thunderstorms. The rolling cracks woke me in the early morning just enough to feel a little fear, and beauty, and mumble “it’s thunder baby.” He pulls me closer because he knows I’m afraid.

In Oregon, I love thunderstorms. The heat, the warm rain, the thunder, the lighting that strikes in a high desert sky. Here, I am afraid. I don’t know yet what is a thunderstorm and what is calling for a tornado.

But this evening, it is calm. Like a haar. Living on a medieval coast of Scotland my first year of college, my Scottish friend told me the thick bank of coastal fog was called a haar. We all giggled and wrapped our foreign lips around the noise coming out of our mouths: Haaaaarrrr. Like a pirate.

The Harr was thick and calming. Encompassing and safe. It was soft. Kind of like it is tonight in Topeka.


 

New Years

It’s already been a seemingly tough year. New years generally start with a lot of hope and a first journal entry that encouragingly expounds on possibility and intent.

Not this year. The first journal entry this year started with: “The dream of myself then is not the dream of myself now.”Some may call it growing pains, or some kind of life transition moving to Kansas and living with a man for the first time. But, now in the bleak midwinter with below freezing temperatures, this upcoming year is going to be scary.

I dreamed myself into a certain image when I was young – smart, beautiful, strong, traveling adventuring journalist – but it stopped at the point when I met someone I could see my life with. I thought everything would effortlessly fall into place after that. I stopped fantasizing about myself beyond that point.

And that’s where I am now. I don’t know what happens next. I can create a new image for my future self to find arbitrary worth – perhaps as a teacher or a mother or a writer or whatever I think I want to be.

Or, I don’t have to.Instead of designing a new expectant identity, that separates me from humanity, I can reach into the fear of not knowing in 2014. I can trust, and open, and sit with that soft vulnerable spot in our hearts that connect us all.

I can just be. I can appreciate that I don’t know. And, kindly, that I never will.

You might be rough and scary, 2014, but thank you for it all.

Trains of Thought

With a dry run of inspiration for blog post ideas (after more than a year), it’s time for that fun writing exercise: stream of consciousness writing. So, the following is four minutes of “train of thought” writing. It’s always fun to see where this stuff goes.

          

The sun glances through our new curtains in a divine filter. Makes you smile when you get up in the morning and see it. My boyfriend noticed it first when he got up – oh baby look at the curtains – and yes, it is beautiful. Trains planes and automonames. Automonames. Sounds like a failed Disney movie.

Oh it’s almost Christmas! We are wrapping gifts and cooking things and listening to my Holiday play list of random holiday music that is not holiday music. Kind of fun. Snow outside. Cold outside. Sunny skies and squirrel nests in the trees. Ryan Adams makes me want to dance. Dance with honesty.

There is a pile of books next to me – some of my favorites – waiting to be wrapped. It will be my first Christmas in Kansas. That has a ring to it, huh? Christmas in Kansas. With the north wind and freezing temperatures and icy roads and Christmas wonder. Wonder of everything we know and don’t know, of God, and God. Of control and trust. I know there are more things I don’t know, than what I think I know. We never know, really. Our opinions and what we think is right or wrong or what is going to happen in the future or what we actually want even – we don’t really know. We just watch, and feel, and appreciate wherever the path may wind.

A Holiday Playlist

Confession: I’m not a huge holiday person. Dressing up as Dorothy this year, purely because it is my first Halloween in Kansas, on October 31 I usually sport a “This is my Costume” t-shirt and call it good.

This is the first year I live in a house with a residential neighborhood, so the first time I had to rush to the store to purchase forgotten candy for the costumed kids that will be knocking (good stuff, like peanut butter cups because I was excited to get those). Then comes Thanksgiving. Then Christmas. Then New Years. Then Valentine’s Day and Easter and Mother’s Day and Father’s Day and my birthday and Fourth of July and Flag Day.

Each is a way to express yourself, eat through love, show appreciation, mark time in a way that all blurs together.

To help us remember that every day is a celebration. And a gift.

 

Music on my Holiday playlist so far (2080, Yeasayer; Halloween Head, Ryan Adams; The General Specific, Band of Horses; Beautiful Day, U2; Gonna Make You Love Me, Ryan Adams; The Deaf Girl’s Song, Cloud Cult)

Catapulting Cows. Or Pianos.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

After consuming Frito pie and drinking a few beers while tailgating at nearby University, my boyfriend and I sat down for a discussion about Pure Moments.

He referenced the scene from Northern Exposure, where they capitulate a piano instead of a cow in efforts to experience a pure moment. We both agreed that a pure moment can’t be planned or expected. It’s the surprise or the unexpectedness in the expectation that is pure.

Francine Prose in Reading Like a Writer writes that “We all begin as close readers. Even before we learn to read, the process of being read aloud to, and of listening, means that we are taking in one word after another, one phrase at a time that we are paying attention to whatever each word or phrase is transmitting.”

Listening is a pure moment. Sometimes my mind wanders to plan the future or replay scenarios of possible personal failures or success as other speak to me. But when I listen, which I am learning to do in Kansas with its propensity of storytelling as a cultural protocol, I don’t know what I am going to hear. It is pure because I have no idea how the story will end, or if I think I know it usually never ends that way.

Writing is similar. The pure moments in writing are when we get out of the way of ourselves. Drop the expectations of being published or even that what we write is going to be good. Instead, let the pure moment flow from somewhere inside of you through your fingers and onto the page.

That’s purity. That’s truth. That’s why we read and write and tell stories.

Brokenhearted in Antigua

I would much rather be in love in Kansas than brokenhearted in Antigua. I realized that last night eating pizza across from my boyfriend, talking about Des’s heart-rendering rejection in paradise. Just a few weeks before, she had said:

“If you want great love you have to take great risks.” Well, she did.

Once, I wrote a pitch about why I watch ‘The Bachelor’ for someone collecting essay ideas about life in our 20s. Here it is, because I think it might make a good blog post instead:

I was crushed when Brad Womack did not kneel down on one knee to ask Jenni, or DeAnna for that matter, to marry him. What?!? The carelessly handsome bachelor had rejected both women after months of seductively romantic courtships. It was the first time in The Bachelor’s history that this had happened.

I was crushed, but more than that, I loved it.

I loved it that both women had fallen madly in love with one man, that they both had been rejected, and that they were now in tearful anguish in the back of a limousine wondering “what went wrong.” I loved it because, at that moment, I felt the same way.

After ending a four-year relationship, I was also a crying heap on the floor. The Bachelor helped me – it helped me accept that I wasn’t alone.

When I admit that I watch The Bachelor friends will react with “That’s horrible!,” or some variance on the same phrase. I always respond with “I know!”

Because I do know – I know that it’s “horrible,” that it’s unrealistic, and that it’s dramatic crack for some women (like me). But while I don’t watch The Real Housewives or Gossip Girl, I am addicted to The Bachelor because the show embellishes underlying process of human attraction, romantic attachment, and intense communication. Watching the show every Monday night, I can always find a nugget of helpful empathy to bring to my own life and my own relationships

As a 20-something woman I love The Bachelor. The women are my age, they feel the devastating emotions I have felt, and they are on this continual journey (if you are a Bachelor fan, you must drink at that word) that I am also on. My journey, though, is not on TV – but I feel it all just the same.

Flipping Pages, Again

Well fellow friends and followers – it’s time for another change, and another chapter.

I just turned 30, so the blog’s tag line needs editing, but not too dramatically. Instead of “dangerously close to 30,” it shall become “barely 30”. As time inevitably passes, I would like to start making these changes with grace and integrity instead of with resistance. Clinging and resisting, I think, actually just makes time go faster. Feeling and trusting allows it to slow.

The essence and intention of this blog will endure, so not to worry.

Embarking today for my move to Topeka, Kansas (not via a tornado), I chose to begin another blog to record those adventures that will be happened

upon in Middle America. Check it out or follow the new blog: Kansas Adventuring.

While the Kansas Adventuring blog is a side project, Wonderings and Wanderings will continue to be updated twice a month with posts about geography, humanity, time, connections, and duct taped those small truths.

Even though we are now “barely 30,” we are still wondering and wandering.

Forever, and ever.That’s a promise.