We Are All Patriots

Monday is Patriots’ Day, and though our 8th graders will be off on their service week trips, the spirit of patriotism has been very much alive in their classrooms these last few weeks. Most of us, I suspect, forget the historical significance of celebrating those rebellious colonists on this day in April. Instead, it’s a great day to head into the city for a Sox game or to watch the Boston Marathon. Yet, the spirit of revolution this day commemorates is as important now as it ever was.

Did you know that Patriots’ Day celebrates not only the passion of the colonists, but also the beginning of democracy in ancient Greece and the Union army’s fight for equality in the Civil War? While many of us know that the Boston Marathon is the world’s oldest annual marathon, the upper school teachers were interested to discover that the decision to host a marathon on Patriots’ Day was an intentional one. Our curiosity about the origins of this day led us to a fascinating article in The Atlantic about the history of the marathon and its connection to the Revolutionary War, the Civil War, and the Athenian army and the “birth of liberty.” Reconnecting with and sharing the deeper and more complex roots of this annual event is just one of the ways we seek to make history come alive for our students.

Last year, I taught an X-block on revolution to our 8th graders. We discussed many aspects of revolution and rebellion, but it was the Civil Rights and counterculture movements of the 1960s that they found most interesting. They were enthralled by the student involvement and we talked about how young people are often the agents of change. This year, through X-blocks and an advisory curriculum focused on citizenship, we are pushing students to see their role in communities and value the power they have to bring about change, here at GUS and in the wider world. In small ways, and potentially in larger ones, they are beginning to identify with the rebellious spirit of justice bequeathed by those who walked the freedom trail, questioned slavery, sat at lunch counters, and march today for important causes. Perhaps our students, like Johnny Tremain, a character they meet in their 8th grade summer reading assignment, will find themselves irresistibly drawn to being champions of change.

Current events unfolding in Florida, in Washington D.C., and around the world have once again placed the power of student voices at the forefront. Patriots owner Robert Kraft, who, following 9/11 and the team’s 2002 Super Bowl win,  trademarked the “We are all patriots” motto, recently wrote a note to the students of Parkland, Florida using the motto as a rousing signature. It seemed particularly fitting, because these young people have inspired a patriotic rebellion reminiscent of our founding fathers and those early Athenians. As I reflect on how these events affect students across the country and here at GUS, I can’t help but think of how true this statement really is. We are all patriots, sometimes in big ways, but also in countless small ways, every day.

As a school, we share the belief that our students can and will make a difference in the world around them. We encourage our students to have faith in who they are, to advocate for what they believe is right, and to actively work to make the world a better place. More than anything we want them to believe in their ability to leave this world better than they found it. I know there are difference-makers and world-changers among us.

If history has taught us anything, it is never to doubt the power of young people. Their power is as strong as the struggle for liberty and freedom is long. Monday, as marathon runners approach the tough ascent of Heartbreak Hill, conquer that climb, and head to the finish line, let us remember that there are many battles we can win. In The Atlantic article Yoni Applebaum observes, “Like the runners navigating the hills of the race’s course, we have made uneven progress, and our pace has sometimes faltered. We should not be so consumed by the task at hand, though, that we fail to look back to the starting line and recognize how far we have come.” We win our battles with persistence, passion, and most of all hope, characteristics that define our young people and connect us to the patriots we honor on Monday.

As we celebrate our 40th year at GUS, we acknowledge not only the “finish line” our anniversary represents, but also advancements in our curriculum and program, the important perspective on education our founders, particularly, Lynne Warren, provided, and our strategic plan for an even brighter future. Just like the marathoners, we celebrate the victory and the hard work, but always with our eye on the next race. We truly are all patriots.

Gretchen Forsyth