Fighting Spirit: Rhetoric, Rotten Rulers, and a Sex Strike

Is a family graduation on your calendar this year?

As a faculty member at Florida State College at Jacksonville (then Florida Community College), I attended graduation every year in full regalia with hundreds of ecstatic grads, joyful families, and proud faculty and administration.

The Tawdry Tale

One year stands out though: 2001. State Representative X rose to the podium to deliver the commencement address and announced that his remarks would be short and to the point. Relieved, the audience sat back to enjoy a brief speech entitled A Short Guide to a Happy Life.  Hmm . . . the title sounded familiar, I thought. Then he went on to tick off the main points: 1. Don’t confuse life with work. 2. Life is what happens when you are making other plans. 3. If you win the rat race, you are still a rat. . . . Then it dawned on me. I have heard this all before. In fact I’ve read it. Recently. In a book. In a book by Anna Quindlen with the same title. This man with an honorable title in high office is plagiarizing his speech, giving no credit to Quindlen or reference to her book. His whole speech. Boldly. Baldly. With no bones about honesty!

QuindlenShortGuide

My sense of justice on high alert, I set out to right the wrong. No, to expose the guilty. I contact the campus president in charge of graduation. Yes, she will check up on my suspicion and she does follow through. There are more emails and phone calls, which in the end boil down to the critical question: Where is the audio recording of that address? Alas, it is never un-earthed. We are told the recording mechanism failed (?) and thus no incriminating evidence is available. Sadly, just my words remain which have now fallen. Flat. On deaf ears.

*  *  *

My own college graduation is a distant memory. When I graduated from Eastern Mennonite College with a degree in English, I was still a plain girl, but with a B. A. degree in English education. I don’t remember at all who spoke at the commencement address or what the topic was, but I am sure there was an emphasis on service to others, demonstrating peace while upholding justice, still strong tenets of my alma mater, now Eastern Mennonite University.

Senior Photo: Eastern Mennonite College
Senior Photo: Eastern Mennonite College

 

The Nobel Laureate

Tomorrow another graduation occurs. On Sunday, April 27, 2014 an honorable woman, Leymah Gbowee, co-winner of the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize and a 2007 EMU alumna, will give the 96th annual commencement address at Eastern Mennonite University. Gbowee was the focus of a documentary “Pray the Devil Back to Hell,” which demonstrates how women, both Christian and Muslim confronted then-Liberian President Charles Taylor “with a demand for peace and end a bloody 14-year-old civil war.” Her genius: Gbowee rallied women, all dressed in white from various ethnic groups to lock arms, protest, and over time literally pray the ruthless rebels, including the President, into retreat. They even staged a sex strike which her book describes in more detail. In 2007 Leymah Gbowee received a Master of Arts in Conflict Transformation from the Center for Justice and Peace-building at EMU, also her alma mater. No doubt in her graduation speech she will make reference to her book: Mighty Be Our Powers: How Sisterhood, Prayer, and Sex Changed a Nation at War.

BookLaymahGbowee

But I can assure you—she has plagiarized neither her book nor her speech!

*  *  *

When have you become outspoken against an injustice?  What were the results?

Have you heard of Leymah Gbowee? Anyone else you know with her qualities?

Advertisements

Up in the Garret

MAtticReading

Books, books, books!

I had found the secret of a garret-room

Piled high with cases in my father’s name,

Piled high, packed large,—where, creeping in

and out

Among the giant fossils of my past,

Like some small nimble mouse between

the ribs

Of a mastodon, I nibbled here and there

At this or that box, pulling through the gap,

In heats of terror, haste, victorious joy,

The first book first. And how I felt it beat

Under my pillow, in the morning’s dark,

An hour before the sun would let me read!

My books!

Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Aurora Leigh

Anna Quindlen in her splendid 84-page book How Reading Changed My Life describes reading as her “perfect island.” She doesn’t say where the island exists, so it can be anywhere the reader imagines it to be.

My perfect island as a girl was the attic under the sloping roof, unless it was summer steamy hot, or winter frosty cold. Then my nest was on my bed, or flopped on the davenport, across a chair, anywhere . . . .

My books were not like Quindlen’s list of “10 Books for a Girl Who Is Full of Beans.” I didn’t read her noble suggestions like Little Women, Anne of Green Gables, Madeline, or even A Wrinkle in Time as a young girl, but I did become addicted to the Cherry Ames series, books in the mold of Nancy Drew: Cherry Ames, Student Nurse, Army Nurse, Flight Nurse. If you have read them, you may know Cherry, short for “Charity,” is the heroine in a series of 27 mystery novels with hospital settings between 1943 and 1968.

I slurped up Lucy Winchester by Mennonite author Christmas Carol Kauffman, the story of Lucy’s spiritual quest to find peace “set against the backdrop of two difficult marriages and many sorrows, broken promises, sickness, infant deaths, alcoholism, and poverty.”

LucyWInchester

In a trip up to the attic again as an adult, my sisters and I rummaged through the stash of antique books (they’re over 50!) and divvied them up among ourselves.

Yes, I read books, books, lots of them, but these are what remain from girlhood days:

ChildStorybooks

The book whose spine is taped up is entitled Bird Life in Wington (1948) a book of parables by Rev. J. Calvin Reid, pastor of  Mt. Lebanon Presbyterian Church in Pittsburgh,

Willie the Wolf in roadster tries to seduce Gertie Goose
Willie the Wolf with fangs in roadster ready to pounce on naive Gertie Goose

who invented the First Birderian Church of Wington to deliver sermonettes to parishioners named Professor Magpie, Baldy Eagle, Mr. Heron, a fisherman–you get the idea.

More Friends and Neighbors (Scott-Foresman & Company, 1941)
More Friends and Neighbors (Scott-Foresman & Company, 1941)

The images in this Valentine story are imprinted on my mind with cookie cutter precision, the secret to the surprise valentines that replace the snow-damaged paper cards by the window. This reader also contained the story of the “The Woman Who Used Her Head” by chopping a hole in her roof to accommodate the lofty altitude of her Christmas tree. 

I always loved to turn the page and find an etching in the Elson Junior Literature Book One
I always loved to turn the page and find an etching in the Elson Junior Literature Book One

Finally, a “real” literature book with Hawthorne’s The Great Stone Face, Emerson’s poem The Snowstorm, announced by “all the trumpets of the sky,” Longfellow’s The Courtship of Miles Standish, and Joan of Arc, the heroic maid who saved France from conquest. A vision, voices, an ancient prophecy–what could be more romantic for a plain Mennonite girl who dreamed of castles, and princes, and fulfillment, oh my!

Did this post jog your memory of textbooks, gift books, library books from your own past?

Please tell us about them.

Another invitation to vote for my story in The Gutsy Story Contest:

To Vote: http://soniamarsh.com/2014/01/vote-for-your-favorite-december-2013-my-gutsy-story.html

Sm.pleaseVote

To Read the Story:  http://soniamarsh.com/2013/12/rising-above-the-pettiness-to-focus-on-the-positive-by-marian-beaman.html

Huge Thanks to those who have already voted!

Purple Passages with a Pig – October 2013 edition

TheGirls

Most plain girls are virtuous because of the scarcity of opportunity to be otherwise.      Maya Angelou

READING

“Reading gives us someplace to go when we have to stay where we are.”   Mason Cooley, aphorist (1927- __ )

“Reading is equivalent to thinking with someone else’s head.”  Arthur Schopenhauer (1788-1860)

8.28.97  Cats look down on you, dogs look up at you, but PIGS look you straight in the eye!

Peter Mayle, Chasing Cezanne

Pig_drawn_150

BOOKS

“A book must be the ax for the frozen sea within us.”  Franz Kafka

“Book love . . . . It will make your hours pleasant to you as long as you live.”  Anthony Trollope

“A house without books is like a room without window.”  Heinrich Mann, novelist  (1871-1950)

“It lights the candle in the hurricane lamp of self; that’s why it survives.” Anna Quindlen. “Turning the Page.” Newsweek: April 5, 2010, (53).

*  *  *  *  *

8.28.97 Sometimes life is a bowl of harries!   “plain and fancy girl”

Cherries_150

10.16.98 When you love someone you do not love them all the time, in exactly the same way, from moment to moment. It is an impossibility. It is even a lie to pretend to. And yet this is exactly what most of us demand.”  Anne Morrow Lindbergh, Gift from the Sea

Shells underwater_4x3_300_med

Your comments welcome. I will always respond!