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celebrating democracy

Memorial Day Weekend: Honoring Democracy, Sacrifice, and Education

The typical Memorial Day weekend brings with it a time for rest, reflection, friends, and family–a welcomed break as we enter the busy final weeks of the school year.

Of course, there is nothing typical about the times we’re living in. And social distancing might not allow you to see all the friends and family you usually spend your holiday weekend with, we hope that the important sentiment we celebrate this weekend still resonates.

Memorial Day is a time to pay respect and to remember those service members who have made the ultimate sacrifice in defense of our country and our democracy.

Of course, sustaining democracy doesn’t happen only through physical security. It also takes an engaged and informed citizenry.

Fifty-six years ago this month, President John F. Kennedy, a veteran of World War II, addressed the graduating class at Vanderbilt University. It also happened to be the university’s 90th anniversary.

In his speech, President Kennedy reminded the audience of the important connection between a high-quality education and a thriving democracy.

“But the educated citizen knows how much more there is to know. He knows that `knowledge is power,’ more-so today than ever before. He knows that only an educated and informed people will be a free people, that the ignorance of one voter in a democracy impairs the security of all, and that if we can, as Jefferson put it, ‘enlighten the people generally … tyranny and the oppression of the mind and body will vanish, like evil spirits at the dawn of day.’”

Understanding this vital connection is important, according to President Kennedy. But, even more important is the responsibility every informed citizen has to expand learning and education throughout the democracy.  

“And, therefore, the educated citizen has a special obligation to encourage the pursuit of learning, to promote exploration of the unknown, to preserve the freedom of inquiry, to support the advancement of research, and to assist at every level of government the improvement of education for all Americans, from grade school to graduate school.”

As we remember those lost defending our democracy this weekend, educators should also reflect on the key role they play in informing and empowering the next generation of citizens. We thank all those individuals and families who have made the ultimate sacrifice.