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Sue Clark: Give yourselves

Sue Clark
Other Voices

My dear graduated seniors: Since we were ripped so abruptly from our physical classroom to distance learning, I have not had many chances to send you my wishes for your future. I have written individual letters to each of you, as I do each year, but those were mainly comments on your positive traits and how they will help you going forward.

Now I am going to remind you of how prescient some of our novels and plays would turn out to be.

One powerful play we read was Arthur Miller’s “The Crucible.” We studied this, beginning with Miller’s censoring by McClarthy and his cohorts in the House Unamerican Activities Committee. Calling people communists and branding colonists as witches continues the tradition of branding people as dangerous and different. Do you see this today? Is one person’s worst epithet to call someone a liberal? A right winger? A snowflake? A nut job? Soft on crime? A conspiracy theorist?

The press and the Puritan church controlled the government and did not tolerate dissent. How is that true today? Or do we have free and respected news sources? Defend your point of view.

“Julius Caesar” was a study of unchecked (at least for part of the play) power. Caesar was seen as trying to be a dictator, not a public servant. Any of this going on today? Do you notice it in local or larger governments?

Speaking of the quest for power, how about “Othello?” Was Iago a good example of a sociopath? Did he lie for fun? Was he capable of “unmotivated malignancy?” How about racism? Any slurs at Othello’s expense?

And here was one of your all time favorites: “Just Mercy” by Bryan Stevenson. Did you cry during the cases where poor people of color had no recourse when on death row? I know you did. You told me so in your journals.

But did you see what just happened? The North Carolina Supreme Court has given some death row inmates a chance to prove racism affected their sentences. Is this progress or pandering? Prove your point.

One moment I will never forget is when we were studying Ann Patchett’s “Bel Canto.” We had a teacher come in and sing an aria to show how the main character, an opera star, sang to the political prisoners being held in a South American country. When our singer left, four of you jumped up and sang something from Les Miserables: “Can You Hear the People Sing?” You locked arms and swayed to the marching beat. This song marked the beginning of the French Revolution in the musical, and I was happily shocked to hear that so many of you loved it.

There were so many more lessons learned, for me and for you.

Seniors, I am depending on you. You can change this broken country and this broken world. I am old and will be out cheering you on, but youth is the future.

In the words of Carrie Chapman Catt:

“To the wrongs that need resistance,

To the right that needs assistance,

To the future in the distance,

Give yourselves.”

I will miss you. America needs you.

Sue Clark lives in Grass Valley.


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