Education Opinion

Simple Gifts

By Susan Graham — January 21, 2009 1 min read

I live and teach on the edge of Washington, D.C. We didn’t have school today and many of my students are attending inaugural events. I will be curious to hear what the kids have to say tomorrow. Our impressions may be vastly different, but when I remember today, this is what I will recall:

A chamber quartet playing a Quaker hymn made famous by an American composer. In case you are not familiar with the words:

“‘Tis the gift to be simple, ‘tis the gift to be free,
‘Tis the gift to come down where we ought to be,”

And there, on the mall stood well over a million people, not bumping and grinding to a rock concert or cheering for their team, but listening quietly to the gentle harmony of a cello, a violin, a clarinet, and a piano--American music played by three immigrants from Israel, China, Venezuela and an African American for the inauguration of a biracial President. “We the people of the United States..” are an immigrant nation and while the sea of faces on the Mall today may look different from those of the Founders, almost all of us are, or descend from, “come heres” from somewhere else.

“And when we find ourselves in the place just right,
‘Twill be in the valley of love and delight.”

There were concerns that there would be mass confusion, unruliness, rioting, and acts of terrorism, but more than a million people stood in the cold, being patient and polite. Official handshakes, ceremonial hugs, waves and nods among the dignitaries. Casual embraces, high fives, fist bumps and citizens walking hand in hand as they hiked back across the bridge and into Virginia where their buses were parked at the Pentagon.

“When true simplicity is gain’d,”

But those values upon which our success depends — hard work and honesty, courage and fair play, tolerance and curiosity, loyalty and patriotism — these things are old. These things are true. They have been the quiet force of progress throughout our history. What is demanded then is a return to these truths.

“To bow and to bend we shan’t be asham’d,”

What is required of us now is a new era of responsibility — a recognition, on the part of every American, that we have duties to ourselves, our nation, and the world, duties that we do not grudgingly accept but rather seize gladly, firm in the knowledge that there is nothing so satisfying to the spirit, so defining of our character, than giving our all to a difficult task.

“To turn, turn will be our delight
‘Till by turning, turning we come round right.”

Starting today, we must pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and begin again the work of remaking America.

As I write, the new President and First Lady are still making the rounds of the Inaugural Balls, but tomorrow Barack Obama has to get down to business.

We do too. Just think, somewhere out there tomorrow morning a future President of the United States will be sitting in someone’s classroom.

It could be my room.

It could be yours.

The opinions expressed in A Place at the Table are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.