January 20, 2013

GUEST ROOM: True Observance Begins in the Classroom

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Cornell is one of only a handful of universities across the country that chooses to hold classes on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. While the academic calendar states that this day is “observed,” many have expressed their surprise that Cornell has scheduled classes, instead of encouraging University-wide participation in commemorative service activities within the community. However, the real question is, even if classes were cancelled, how many of you would truly “observe” this day in Martin Luther King, Jr.’s honor? Would you really be out in the community helping others? Or would you use the day to catch up on sleep? Many students are simply disappointed about not having a three-day weekend. However, a look at the legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr. demonstrates that the University, regardless of its reasoning for holding classes today, is still honoring andobserving this federally appointed day for MLK.

A man that strove, in part, for the desegregation of schools, Martin Luther King, Jr. demonstrated that education is an opportunity that should be available to all. This sentiment echoes Ezra Cornell’s motto for this university: “I would found an institution where any person can find instruction in any study.” While many of us rightly feel that we should be honoring MLK by being out in the community and perhaps question how much can be gleaned from attending the first day of class, we are still honoring him by simply making the first step of the semester in valuing our education. By attending classes tomorrow, we are supporting MLK’s efforts to ensure the diversity of intellect and backgrounds in the classroom.

To be consistent with MLK’s goals, it is also important that we translate our education into service learning, public engagement and the betterment of those around us. To honor MLK’s sacrifices, we must take our privilege of education seriously and become more educated about the aspects of community we want to involve ourselves in. For some, this might be finance; for others, law, psychology, biology and the plethora of other subjects that Cornell offers. This ensures that when we do get out and help, we are making a truly conscientious and potentially sustainable impact in the community.

Furthermore, you probably have time on a daily basis to help out in the community. You are most likely not in classes for 12 hours a day, so there is still time to lend a hand at Loaves & Fishes, stop by a nursing home and ask permission to deliver a bouquet of flowers to a resident or simply use your BRBs at Trillium to pay for the person behind you. Additionally, the Office of Academic and Diversity Initiatives is offering an array of commemorative events on campus that you can attend today, if your schedule permits. As Martin Luther King, Jr. notably said, “Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, ‘What are you doing for others?’” The great thing about observance and service is that it can be demonstrated in a variety of ways and, more importantly, not just on one day, but in our everyday lives.

In writing this, I am not trying to raise another scheduling debate and I am not trying to accuse the University of purposely disregarding Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. The life and legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr. should not be remembered and observed for just one day. True “observance” of MLK’s life and legacy involves conscious reflection of his life and a daily effort to better the lives of others. This can be achieved through study in the classroom and involvement in university life and the greater community.

Teresa Danso-Danquah is a sophomore in the School of Industrial and Labor Relations. Feedback may be sent to [email protected]. Guest Room appears periodically this semester.

Original Author: Teresa Danso-Danquah