Tuesday, December 04, 2012

What is your Columbian Orator?

Three years ago, historian Howard Zinn died of a heart attack at the age of 87. I was surprised how emotionally affected I was by his passing -- I certainly didn't know him, but saw him speak on several occasions, most notably at Northwestern University, days before the Iraq War.

I believe Zinn's death had such an impact on me because his writings and life were so formative in how I began to finally think for myself. Although most of us are familiar with Zinn's seminal A People's History of the United States, the book I always reference is the lesser-known Declarations of Independence, which has been since renamed.

This work always reminds me of a passage from Frederick Douglass' Narrative, in which he had secretly obtained a book, The Columbian Orator while in the depths of despair about being a slave for life. He wrote: "Every opportunity I got, I used to read this book....[It] gave tongue to interesting thoughts of my own soul, which had frequently flashed through my mind, and died away for want of utterance"(23-24). That's what Declarations was for me: an affirmation of my deepest-held beliefs, and a model for expressing them openly. Zinn had subtitled his book, "Cross-examining American Ideology", and challenged every one of the assumptions listed below.

‘Be realistic; this is the way things are; there’s no point thinking about how things should be.’

‘People who teach or write or report the news should be objective; they should not try to advance their own opinions.’

‘There are unjust wars, but also just wars.’

‘If you work hard enough, you’ll make a good living. If you are poor, you only have yourself to blame.’

‘Freedom of speech is desirable, but not when it threatens national security.’

‘Racial equality is desirable, but we’ve gone far enough in that direction.’

‘Our Constitution is the greatest guarantee of liberty and justice.’

‘The United States must intervene from time to time in various parts of the world with military power...[to] promote democracy.’

‘If you want to get things changed, the only way is to go through the proper channels.’

‘There is much injustice in the world but there is nothing that ordinary people, without wealth or power, can do about it.’

What/Who is your Columbian Orator?

16 comments:

Maddie said...

My Columbian Orator is my grandfather, Francis Gazzolo. Francis Gazzolo, or "Zayzie" to me, was an Italian immigrant to America, and his family settled in Illinois and he came to settle in Evanston. He was always an extremely compassionate and determined person, and he stood for all of the values I find very important. He always went out of his way to be friendly; my dad tells me that Zayzie used to make stops on the way to dropping my dad and his sibs off at school to pick up any extra (random!) kids who might have to walk to school! Zayzie, who grew up as a Catholic, also made efforts to branch out from his religious "bubble." He learned Yiddish, and asked his grandkids call him "Zaydee," Yiddish for grandfather (even though we couldn't really pronounce it, and chose Zayzie instead). My grandfather went out of his way to be friendly but always spoke his mind, two things that I find very important but I don't think go together all the time. He found a balance between being compassionate and outspoken, which I find quite significant, and I try to follow his lead often.

David Eagen said...

Although I am still relatively young, I have found Derek Jeter to be my "Columbian Orator". I recently read his bestseller called "The Life You Imagine" and was struck with the principles he followed to become one of the most successful baseball players of all time. Even though choosing a baseball player may seem a little childish, I believe that America's Pastime is an excellent example of expressing the formula for success. Jeter's book has become a set of guidelines for me to follow, not just in baseball, but in life as well. The book focuses on goal-setting and achievement, which he stressed throughout his work. He believes that it is better to set a goal extremely high and come up short than set an average goal and meet it. Also, there is an entire chapter with the name "The World is Not Always Fair". This is a principle that I have adapted in my endeavors because it is important to react to the things you can't control, and affect the things you can control as best you can. Just like in baseball, life is full of things you can't control. In Zinn's book that Mr. Bolos quoted, he states that: "There is much injustice in the world, but there is nothing that ordinary people, without wealth or power, can do about it." I disagree with this. Just look to Derek Jeter, a boy who came from humble beginnings that ended up being very successful. Obviously, Zinn is not referring to baseball but the ideals are similar. Whether I am in school, on the baseball diamond or even dealing with family life, I use "The Life You Imagine" as my Columbian Orator in order to be successful in whatever I am pursuing because it gives me a sense of purpose, not matter what the world throws your way.

Andrew Gjertsen said...

Only "Grammy" to me as a child, my Grandma has evolved in my mind to be an incredible Columbian Orator. Growing up with her family of over 10 people in Berlin, Germany during WWII and the Berlin Occupation, she was incredibly brave, exemplary and driven to make it through what she was going through. These qualities are what I strive to model myself after. Under 10 years old at the time, my Grandma's apartment building was in the Russian occupied sector of Berlin, arguably the harshest of them all. Every family in my Grandma's apartment complex was evacuated, but the general in charge of the evacuations kept her family a secret due to the young children, though unbeknownst to his soldiers. When he left the building during the day, the soldiers were left at the building, unbeknownst to them that there was a family of 10 hiding from them. The Russian soldiers did not take too kindly to "Nazi" looking people, and my Grandma witnessed brutal beatings of people of "Nazi" appearance (Blonde hair, blue eyes). My Grandma has brown eyes, so didn't fit the "Nazi" build. Because of this, she was the one that had to retrieve food for the entire family, (normally a loaf of bread at most) from the Russian soldiers at a pantry, in exchange for her company. A child in the presence of full grown soldiers: terrifying. Going through these scary events at such a young age is truly exemplary, which is why my Grandma makes an incredible Columbian Orator.

Lily Schroeder said...

To me, a Columbian Orator is not one who I admire or whose ideals and goals I share, but it is someone who finds words to express things that I have thought, feel, or currently think. There are many people who I look up to, respect, and admire, but I can't put my finger on an individual who I have come to know, to read, to hear as my Columbian Orator. For example, Scott Harrison from Charity Water has committed his every day life to making sure people around the world have clean water. When I first heard him speak, I was awe struck- inspired! I knew I wanted to be involved. I intensely admire his passion and his project, but he is not my Columbian Orator. I hope to find the person who will really take the words right out of my mouth or thoughts out of my head; thoughts perhaps that I could not find words for.

Sarah Henzlik said...

My Columbian Orator is someone whom I admire for not only their musicianship but only for their attitude and actions of philanthropy. This person is Herb Alpert, the 20th century trumpet player. Not only did Alpert take the world by storm with his smooth tones of his group, Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass, he also has engaged in many charitable efforts. Included in these efforts are assisting and funding youth and arts education through UCLA and his foundation, The Herb Alpert Foundation of the Arts, helps fund PBS and in addition, helps to spread awareness about environmental issues. I think when a person becomes rich and famous, it is a true indicator of who they really are. They could choose to live a lavish lifestyle, or they could choose to help others who are less fortunate than themselves and do not have a voice. Herb Alpert exemplifies a 'Columbian Orator' to me because through his awareness, the world has been graced with kindness as well as music for the ages.

Natalie Boudos said...

My Columbian Orator is my first grade teacher, Ms. Hoffschield. While my schooling has greatly changed since first grade there are many elements of school that she taught me such as the importance of interacting with the curriculum and always trying news things. I think that the best example of theses teachings was when my first grade class decided that we wanted to do our own production of Aladdin. Through the process she encouraged us to be creative but still helped us "write" a script and learn as much as a first grader can learn. Her way of just letting learning come as more interesting and as something you get to do because it's intriguing has been very influential in how I approach school, even in high school.

Jeremy Noskin said...

If I was to choose a Columbian Orator, it would be my former camp counselor Andy Monfre. As a kid, I looked up to Monfre as a role model due to his humor, responsibility, and ability to make difficult tasks seem effortless. However, for a man in his 30's, I now know that he has a great deal of wisdom. He is primarily a lawyer, but has returned to camp the past five years due to his passion about working with kids. Although he could have been making significantly more money practicing law, he decided to pursue what was true to his heart. This passion is something I admire. I personally would prefer to do something I love than do something of less interest to make a little more money. Monfre also tries to make everyone feel involved. No matter the activity, he will never exclude anyone, which is very admirable. Although this is part of being a counselor, this holds true to the rest of his life. He is selfless and puts others ahead of himself. I aspire to be like Monfre one day, but not many exhibit his selfless qualities. Even though Andy Monfre may seem like a camp counselor to many, he demonstrates sage-like wisdom and is my Columbian Orator.

Aj Watkins said...

For me, debate is my Colombian orator. As crazy as it sounds, it is the only place where I feel comfortable and challenged when I both declare my own opinions and listen to others. During classes throughout the day, I generally only answer questions that have an objectively correct answer. In math, all I can contribute is how I solved some kind of equation. In Latin, I can only contribute my knowledge of what words mean. But during debate tournaments, I spend one round arguing why Keynesian economics is true, and the next arguing against it. Debate not only shapes the knowledge I gain, but the person I am. It makes me unique. Yes, it may sound nerdy, but debate allows me to spend my weekend arguing about topics that most kids in my grade don't even know. Like Douglass, I can never get enough of debate. Whether it be doing research or just talking about certain topics with my teammates, it is always on my mind.

alex wolkoff said...

My Columbian Orator would have to be an experience I had freshman year, specifically during English class. We were having a discussion about the general topic of working hard and how far it can get a person in life. For me, growing up I was taught working hard can get you anywhere, and if you did not get where you wanted to be it was because you were not working hard enough. However, at the end of this discussion our class concluded that working hard can only get a person so far, meaning there is more a person must do besides working hard to achieve what he or she may want. I was a bit distraught by the end of this discussion; however, it definitely changed my thinking and how I looked at the World. And every time this discussion comes back into my head it always causes me to question what is the next step, after working hard, to get where I want to be.

tally ford said...

My parents have always preached, “ Be Just and Fear Not”, a quote written by William Shakespeare in one of his plays. Their interpretation of this quote has always been that if you live fairly and treat others with respect, you will be rewarded in some way and things will work out in the end. I have never questioned this logic and have always lived by this quote and thought that if I am treating everyone with respect I will somehow be rewarded. However, after reading the Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, I am beginning to question this philosophy. While reading this narrative, it has really opened my eyes to what enslaved people really endured and has almost acted as a Colombian orator for me. Even when they endured so much, they were never rewarded, including Douglass. This made me question the philosophy my parents always preached, even if you are always fair, will you be rewarded? I now think that is not true. I am not saying that people should stop treating others fairly and respectfully, but I am questioning if everyone is really rewarded for all their fair actions.

Zach Peltz said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Heidi Blumenthal said...

My Columbian Orator is Joey. Joey is a kid that I taught swimming to through a program called GLASA (Greater Lakes Adaptive Sports Association). He was born with no arms or legs, and so he has stubs instead. A person like this most people would say should not swim, but that hasn't stopped Joey. I teach swimming to many kids through organizations like Guard, however Joey is the one person who has taught me a lesson in return for teaching him to swim. Joey is always so happy to come and swim. He is constantly asking how he can improve, and to me, Joey's attitude towards swimming, and other things in life like talking on a cellphone by himself, or competing in a swim meet, is an inspiration. Joey has changed my perspective of what is considered possible. He has shown me that it is important to set high goals for yourself. Also his outlook on life of doing what others think is impossible, and trying to reach his full potential, has bursted my pre-existing bubble that limited my own expectations of what I could do. Because of Joey, I now try to expand my perspective of what I believe is possible.

JAKEYWITZ said...

Freshman year I read the book "Siddhartha" by Herman Hesse. I had always not been jazzed about the idea of studying super hard and sacrificing my social life and health just to get into the best schools, and then study harder to get the best job. In Siddhartha, the main character first tries his hardest to live on nothing, then he tries to live a life as rich as he can imagine. Both of these lives end up being unfulfilling to him, and in the end he lives by a river, and through living a childlike existence becomes enlightened. This book gave me confidence to live life how I wanted to, and to learn as much as I can from nature and the world around me. It also reassured me that possessions and fame won't mean anything at the end of life, only how much you put into the world and how much you learned from it

Colin M said...

In 8th grade I switched soccer clubs and met my Columbian Orator, my new goalkeeper coach, Ovidio Felcaro. Mr. Felcaro grew up in a poor part of Argentina, but was one of the lucky few who made it professional playing soccer - in Argentina only 1 in every 10,000 soccer players goes professional. Even so, as a first division player in Argentia, athletes make little money and have nothing when they retire. Mr. Felcaro realized this, kept up his grades, and after a few seasons qualified for a program to learn construction in Sweden. I have heard many of his stories during breaks and after practice, but this one stuck with me the most because he had to give up what he loved to just get by. He is my Columbian Orator not only because he taught me the value of hard work, but also because he taught me to keep everything in perspective and that everything, even your dream,comes with downsides; you just have to be able to adapt to the situation when it's presented.

Alexis B said...

My Colombian Orator would have to be Mr. Duell, my sophomore year Geography teacher. Taking Geography was one of the best choices I have made at New Trier, because it was learning history from a new perspective. Geography explained the patterns in historical happenings rather than the actual events, and I found that interesting. If Mr. Duell hadn’t been the teacher, I don't think I would have enjoyed it nearly as much. He always had an exciting story to tell us of his travels all over the world and his teaching jobs in Japan and Honduras. He was able to explain all the topics we discussed with a personal connection that really helped me understand the world much better than I did before. Seeing his connections allowed me to discover my own connections to what we were talking about in class, and I continue to make connections today. He made life much more interesting and meaningful to me. I have a greater appreciation for many aspects of the world because I understand the meanings behind them, thanks to Mr. Duell.

Noah Quinn said...

After a while of thinking, traveling is my Colombian Orator. It sounds broad, however traveling is the one category that has shaped my life in all of it's complex respects. I don't mean Christmas vacation, but traveling for a more meaningful reason other than relaxing on a beach somewhere. Last summer I went to Thailand/Laos on a service trip. That traveling is how I envision the rest of my adult life. We are so privileged and opening your eyes to new cultures, and lifestyles is incredibly moving; much like my experiences in this past summer. Being able to remember the smiles of the farmers after you saved them months of work by helping clear their rice paddies, or the joy in a child's eyes after teaching him/her how to swim probably has a stronger impact on you than it does on them. This summer I plan on building new incredible experiences by going on another service trip to Ghana, and help with orphans there. In the future I can see travel playing an integral part of my life. Whether it is for pleasure, business, or philanthropy I aspire to be able to travel until I die.