Showing posts with label high school. Show all posts
Showing posts with label high school. Show all posts

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Enjoying Hometown Friends in Istanbul

 Brian Smith and me
One of the fun parts about living in Istanbul is so many friends come through town as tourists. This summer it was my  Ames, Iowa high school classmate Brian Smith and his very fun wife Fazia Ali. So many giggles! Brian is so in love with Fazia. It's moving to see. They have been married for 19 years.
Family friend Bahar
and Brian's wife Fazia
Brian is a Pulitzer-prize winning photographer. His first magazine photograph appeared in LIFE Magazine when he was a 20-year-old student at the University of Missouri.  Five years later, Brian won the Pulitzer Prize for his photographs of the Los Angeles Olympic Games. Yes, that's right, at age 25!

Because Brian started achieving so early and for so many years people are always asking him for advice and he is happy to provide it. Here's an example from his blog where he shares Secrets of Sports Photography: his favorite Olympic Moments.  It is great storytelling of jawdropping images we will all remember.

Lately, Brian has specialized in celebrity portrait photography. I love hearing him talk about his book project "Art and Soul: Stars Unite to Celebrate and Support the Arts." The book grew out of the desire of entertainment professionals to share in a deeply personal way how they had been impacted by the arts. Truly, some of the most iconic celebrities are featured. I dare you to look deeply into Ann Hathaway's eyes in Brian's portrait and not want to say "yes" to whatever she asks for! You can thumb through 15 of the portraits on the Amazon site and vote for the ones you like. All of these portraits were also featured at the Library of Congress. The stars hand-carried the book to Congress to advocate for more funding for the arts.

This fall Brian will have a new book coming out called "Secrets of Great Portrait Photography: Photographs of the Famous and Infamous." Along with instantly iconic photos like this cover shot of billionaire space entrepreneur Richard Branson, Brian shares the stories behind the photographs and how he connected with his subjects to create such unforgettable images.

I admire my classmate's work and his willingness to mentor so many young photography professionals coming up. Brian gives speeches all across America on photography topics but also on just getting started as a professional. I enjoyed the storytelling in this webinar: "Stop Waiting for Your Big Break." He frequently is invited to share on this and other topics in person.

After coming to Istanbul, Brian and Fazia went on to Athens. I LOVE this photograph he took of her there.
"My Goddess Rocks the Acropolis"

Brian Smith on Twitter: @briansmithphoto
Brian Smith on the web:

Monday, June 18, 2012

Listening to dissidents

Manal Al-Sharif
A woman with the simple demand:
I need to drive in my daily life.
Before coming to Little Rock, I had had dissidents on the brain due to the first award of the Vaclav Havel Award for Creative Dissent. I was moved by Vaclav Havel and his friends' simple desire to live in freedom when I lived in the Czech Republic. Now, a generation later, I was fascinated by the lady who so eloquently described what the simple ability to drive in her daily life would mean to her. I find the idea that anyone would deny her that, unimaginable.
Dan Choi
Former U.S. Army Officer and
American dissident
who worked to end
'Don't Ask, Don't Tell,'
the policy demanding gays lie about their identity
while serving their country
I thought about Dan Choi, the gay West Point-educated Arab linguist, who had the simple desire to serve his country in the American military. He was discharged under "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" for being gay at a time when our country could have used every single Arab linguist available.
Elizabeth Eckford's dignified and quiet demand:
"I want to go to a good school."
Live in freedom and safety, drive, serve one's country. Another simple wish from history, this time from Little Rock, Arkansas, in 1957: go to a good school. Regular people asking their society to grant them dignity and equality. It's stunning what humanity puts them through when they ask for it.
Global Dissident Eve Ensler
demanding that people
all over the world
rise up and change the global paradigm
on violence against women.
Who are the dissidents pushing buttons in your country or culture? If they are pushing for change and meeting resistance, what is they want that seems so outlandish? How do you and I evaluate whether or not our own attitudes are on the right side of history? For example, I find the American political party, the Tea Party, often 'pushes my buttons.' But if you boil down their demands to one thing, "live within our means as a nation," that doesn't seem outlandish, does it?

I always want to make sure I'm on the right side of history. Their single demand deserves respect in my book, even though I don't always agree with how to get there.
6th generation Iowan and Eagle Scout
Zach Walls
demanding the State not discriminate
against his family
I leave you with the message of one last dissident asking for respect. He's from my home state of Iowa. All he wanted, was for Iowa lawmakers not to write discrimination against his parents into the State of Iowa constitution. His name is Zach Walls. Seems like a simple enough request, doesn't it?

What dissidents 'push your buttons' in your country? Do you agree with their cause or disagree? How do you decide whether or not you are a barrier to progress (one way to look at it) or a steward of traditional values (another way to look at it)? I ask to learn. This difference between these two ways of seeing things is at the heart of so much of our political hearthaches. Let's listen to each other.

I see what the people of Little Rock achieved when they thought of themselves as "us:" together they built the most beautiful high school in the United States of America the year it was built. When they chose to think of themselves as "us" and "them" what did they achieve?

Thursday, June 14, 2012

A near spiritual experience at Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas

The stately
Central High School in
Little Rock, Arkansas

Chosen as "the most beautiful high school"
in America the year it was built
by the American Institute of Architects

When my girls and I decided to go down to Little Rock, Arkansas to see the Clinton Presidential Library, I went to to see what else there was to do in Little Rock. I was surprised to see that the Presidential Library was actually rated #2 on the list of things to do.

What people had rated even higher was going to see the Little Rock Central High School National Historic Site and Visitor's Center, where the gigantic American desegregation battle got a very visible push in 1957. As a lifelong learner, history buff, and former grade school student in the years that followed, I thought my family should devote a day of our trip to see it.
The building itself is so wonderfully grand.
A mix of Art Deco and Gothic Revival styles.

You can see why anyone
would want their child to attend this school.

You can also see why any teenager
would want to attend this school.

It's a universal desire, isn't it?
To go to a good school.

Little Rock Central High School is recognized for the role it played in the desegregation of public schools in the United States.  The admission of nine African-American students to the formerly all-white Central High School was the most prominent national example of the implementation of the Supreme Court decision in Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka.
We caught a tour just beginning
for tweens and teens
at the Visitor's Center
We tagged along with a tour by the park ranger for a group of Arkansas school kids because the reviewers on Tripadvisor had raved about the park ranger-led tours. As Brian Schwieger, our tour guide began to tell the story of what happened in Little Rock, I was awed by what superb metaphors he used for explaining the thoughts and roles of all involved in a way that didn't demonize them.

The park ranger asked, "have you ever had to share with your brother or sister and you didn't want to? That's kind of how the folks felt who protested the integration of this school." Everyone instantly understood that feeling.

Then he asked, "how many of you are married? When you get married, you're forming a union. Imagine all the ways we have to change when we get married. Some times, we have to compromise and do what we don't want to do. To form a more perfect union, each person has to give up a little of life the way they knew it before to create something even stronger and better in a union. When I got married I had to start doing a few more chores or going to bed earlier or doing things that help both of us succeed. This is how we formed a more perfect union.

He continued, "integration and sharing schools was deemed one of the ways America could form a more perfect union. Separate and equal schools did not end up being equal and without changing we would have a less perfect union."  These were such perfect analogies! Every kid there could relate to these metaphors.
Our ranger
telling us about Elizabeth Eckford,
the young woman who faced
the crowds alone.

I was shocked to learn that the 1957 crowd who assembled to prevent integration hadn't done that on their own but had actually been incited into it by a Governor who took control over local decision-making and directly challenged the Federal Government's authority to tell school boards to integrate. The Governor called in the National Guard to supposedly "protect" the students, but really it was to prevent their admission. That stunned me.

Governor Faubus did it because he faced an upcoming election challenge from someone more conservative than he and he wanted to be proactive about presenting a tough face on the subject of integration. But what Governor in their right mind would take on the WWII hero and President, Dwight Eisenhower?

The park ranger then told the story of local heroine named Daisy Bates, who had been president of the local NAACP chapter and a publisher of a newspaper widely-read in the black community. She was the adult who helped choose which teenagers would take on the daunting task of integrating the school. She also was the supporting adult for the Little Rock Nine.
Before the days of cell phones
and Twitter, the national press
had to call in the story on a pay phone
from this gas station
across the street from the school.
The actual first day of integration was delayed one day. Ms. Bates was able to reach all of the students to tell them to stay home, except for one young woman who didn't have a phone and showed up for school all by herself. The tour really helped me imagine what that young woman went through. When I listened to her story, I wept. I could not be more thankful for brave people like this young woman who dealt with all of the disorder and hate that day.
The gas station has been preserved as it was then
and will be turned into a classroom
for visiting field trips.
The tour made me so thankful for President Dwight Eisenhower who called in overwhelming force (the 101st Airborne) to get the job of integrating nine students done. I was shocked that Governor Faubus would even think of taking on the man who was the Supreme Allied Commander in charge of defeating the Nazis now that the General was President. Did the Governor honestly think he would be successful?

Governor Faubus, not only did not want to implement this desegregation but he actually closed the school in the following year, just to spite the President and the Federal Government. So now he was wrecking everyone's high school years, black and white alike! I wondered what would have happened if we had had a different President who wasn't as comfortable using force to make this happen.

Our park ranger has to go home at night with incredible job satisfaction. I could not help but think that sharing this story with Americans, especially young people, was sacred, sacred work. He made every child on our tour think about the leadership various people exhibited in 1957. He talked about the young white men at the high school who chose not to be violent, the white students who chose to reach out in welcome to the black students, and the brave African-American nine who took on this challenge. It was soooo moving to hear him make every single person on our tour, young and old alike, feel the leadership they themselves could show when faced with such a challenge. Sacred work!

If I was black, I would be so fed up with America's slow pace of change. This school actually wasn't fully integrated until 1972, but it's probably the same at other schools across the land. Imagine, if you were one of the Little Rock Nine and had undergone all of this hardship just to go to a good school and white school boards kept finding a way to keep the decision from being completely implemented.  How black people must ache!

Martin Luther King said, "the arc of the moral universe is long but it bends towards justice." If you were a black mom or dad wouldn't you want justice now? Long justice isn't good enough. Everyone wants the best for their child. The slow arc of justice is just not satisfying if it your child.

Reflecting on my own experience

In the month since we were there, I've reflected a lot on my own family and whether or not we have done our share of work to form a more perfect union. I am proud to say that my girls went to an inner-city high school. While my daughters were in a gifted program with less diversity than the overall high school, it was still housed within this inner-city school where the African-American male graduation rate stood at 17%. Don't think I didn't want the best for my kids too, the graduates of the gifted program scored in the top 1% of the nation on the ACT.

 I'm especially proud of the role my youngest daughter took at her high school. The freshman orientation had been cancelled for some reason her first year there so she went in on the first day of school cold. She felt students in the years to follow would do better armed with more information on their first day.

The summer before her senior year she made hundreds of phone calls to her fellow seniors asking them to voluntarily staff a freshman orientation for the students. Dozens of seniors came in and the freshman loved being able to tour the school and see where the classes would be held. The new class learned the school songs, met the administration, and did all of those standard orientation activities.

 Daughter #2 didn't stop there. She created an 8-page color magazine to be given to each freshman with tips on how to be successful at the school quoting those who had made it to the senior level. She raised the thousands of dollars for that magazine herself too.

"The equal dignity of all persons is...a vital part of our constitutional legacy, even if the culture of the framers held them back from fully perceiving that universal ideal." ~ Justice Ruth Bader Gingsburg, 2000

As a citizen, I want our nation to form that more perfect union. I don't want to live in a country where people just tolerate each other. I want our nation to enjoy each other. I believe it is the work of the white people of my generation and my children's generation to make up for those past wrongs and reach out in kindness.

My kids are out of school now, but I can still make a difference by breaking bread with those different than me. I can still make a difference by reading and viewing someone else's stories and putting myself in their shoes. I can still make a difference by having conversations with people who are different than me on this topic. As Congressman John Lewis said back then when he was a young Freedom Rider, "if not us, then who? If not now, then when?"

You might also be interested in:

The Springfield Race Riots of 1908

Why the Obama Presidential Library should be built in
Springfield, Illinois

Touring the William Jefferson Clinton Presidential Library in Little Rock, Arkansas

Geocaching in Little Rock, Arkansas

Listening to Dissidents

and this from Turkey as I watched the Turkish protests:

Polarization is a Choice

Friday, May 21, 2010

Yea! I'm Back in Prague

I'm glad to see this guy
is still going strong
in Prague's Old Town Square.
He produces endless smiles,
joy, and singing in those passing by.

I started this blog to move me forward to some very specific goals:

1) graduate youngest from high school.
2) sell my house.
3) move to Prague and take a TEFL class.
4) live in Prague teaching business English.

My youngest graduated from high school and is now in her junior year of college.  I moved to Prague, took my TEFL course and started to have the time of my life.  Six months into it, I had to go back to the States because my school waited 2.5 months before applying for my visa and it wasn't ever issued.  I tried to reapply for a visa from the States. I was told I was denied a second time (although I never actually received a letter saying so).

My daughters and I

I spent a very lovely 10 months in Madison, Wisconsin.  Madison is a city frequently chosen by magazines as the #1 most fabulous place to live in all of the United States.  I can heartily agree! Madison was a physically beautiful, intellectually-stimulating, healthy, wonderful place to live.  I may end up there some day, who knows. While I was back in the States, I finally got my house sold and watched my oldest daughter graduate from the University of Wisconsin (she did it in 3.5 years while working 20 hours a week and serving as president of one of her student organizations. Yea, Daughter #1! Somebody hire her please, she's amazing.).

But living in Madison was not what I wanted to do with this portion of my life here on Earth, so having accomplished all of the goals I set out to do, I'm ready to start Part II of Empty Nest Expat.  This part will be more spontaneous.  My goal is to write a very specific book about the Czech Republic.  I can visualize the entire thing in my mind.

I have come back to Prague to see if I can get a residence visa from the Czech Republic to live here while I write. I've applied for what is called the živnostenský list which is essentially a business trade license so that I can earn a living while I'm here writing. I am absolutely horrible at bureaucratic paperwork like visas and the like and am actually pretty proud just to have figured out (with the help of friends) how to do the živnostenský list without an agency's help. Having applied for this business trade license, and been approved, I will then have to move back out of the Czech Republic to apply for a residence visa (don't bother asking, I don't understand it either). Still with me, or have your eyes glazed over?  If they've glazed over, welcome to my world.

House of Týn Church

When I got back to Prague and first saw the spires of the House of Týn Church, I cried.  They were so damn beautiful!  And then I cried when I was on Revoluční, and realized I was going to have my first chlebičky in 10 months at my favorite kavárna (coffee shop). Oh, the joy of familiar Czech pleasures!

I hope I'm successful living here.  That's why I say Phase II of Empty Nest Expat may have to be more spontaneous.  I'm not yet ready to give up my Czech dream, but if I have to do so, I'll read up on how to develop Buddhist non-attachment to what I want and then find a country that welcomes me.

Friday, March 20, 2009

"The Restoration of Order: The Normalization of Czechoslovakia" by Milan Simecka

People read George Orwell's "1984" to imagine the kind of inhuman state where individuals don't matter and the state's right to control all is paramount. Orwell's "1984" is fiction. Milan Simecka, a Czechoslovak dissident writing in the early 1980's explains for history what happened in Czechoslovakia following the people's attempt to "put a human face" on socialism.

How was the totalitarian country able to reinstitute a Stalinist-style state without violence after the Prague Spring in 1968? How did the government eliminate dissent in less than two years? In chilling detail, Simecka shows how the State used it's power over people's income, jobs, friendships, even their children's future to control each citizen's every move.

Approximately 10-20% of the Czech population still votes for the Communist Party. My Czech friends tell me that the people still voting for the Communist party look back with nostalgia at getting a job from the state, getting a flat from the state, and cheap bread. With everything "provided" life had "no worries."

Today's young people, especially, may not know the horrors of that time, because the Czechs are so sick of that period there hasn't yet been a national curriculum developed to teach young people what happened. Czechs want to let it go and move on (hence, they think we Americans are obsessed with it all!)

I recommend this book for every reader of any country who wants to understand the communist totalitarian period. It would be a great book for any Czech/Slovak or political book club. I also think it would be especially useful for every Czech and Slovak high school student to understand the choices their parents and grandparents had to make to survive.

Like "The Diary of Ann Frank," which most American kids read sometime during their education, this book makes the choices presented by the times very personal and imaginable.

You may be interested in another book about governmental abuse of power:

Understanding Iran: The Power of One Graphic Novel called 'Persepolis'

Friday, May 23, 2008

The Last Day of High School

Yesterday was my youngest daughter's last day of high school. I'm so proud of her. All tasks are done and the Constitution test is passed. She is graduating.

She created and hand wrote thank you notes to 27 different staff members. I'm proud that my child knows the name of her high school custodians and security people and went out of her way to thank them. She understands how each and everyone of them contribute to her experience. Most importantly, she tells them!

Last night our high school had Senior Awards night. This event actually means more to me than graduation because it's more dignified. It is such a pleasure to hear everything that the kids have done and to learn more about young adults in her school individually. I was so pleased that her boyfriend's mother and grandmother were able to join us.

My daughter definitely felt the love; I'm grateful for that. She was honored six times. I kinda sorta wished though that someone had mentioned everything she did for the school over the last year to sorta help explain why she was honored so much. So in case she reads this, here is my thank-you:

Thank you for spending every day at school during your junior-senior summer organizing 100 of your peers to put on a freshman orientation so that incoming freshman feel empowered and comfortable on their first day of school. You selected an inspiring speaker to help freshman set their goals. Each new student was shown where their classes are. You and your peers taught them the school song. You passed on pride.

Thank you for raising $2,000 to create and publish an eight-page full-color magazine all by yourself during that same summer. Your magazine showed incoming freshman how to be successful as freshmen. You can be proud that you helped them think of opportunities and challenges they may face before they come up. It was a fun, beautiful piece of magazine publishing. Your first of what I believe will be many.

Last night, you felt the appreciation of your school. All this week, I hope you feel the appreciation of your family. You have made us all so very happy.


Mom xxxoooxxx
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