It's been two weeks, I know. I have a theory that blogging rate is an exponentially decaying function. Anyway, I'm in Washington, D.C., for the annual meeting of the National Collegiate Honors Council (NCHC), and feeling very patriotic. I hit most of the memorials yesterday, got grossed out by the water quality of the reflecting pool, etc. National Gallery of Art today. Oh, and the conference, too.
Actually, it's a bad idea to have such a conference in a city like D.C. There's too much to do. That is, you kinda just want to blow off the meeting and head over to Ford's Theatre or the Air & Space Museum or the Capitol or any number of other cool places. Last year this meeting was in San Antonio, which is a fine city but let's be honest, once you've been to the Alamo and strolled on the River Walk you've pretty much done it all. Next year it's Kansas City (which I'm actually excited about because of the Negro League Baseball Museum) which I guess doesn't have the same cachet as D.C.
The last time I was here as a tourist was after my freshman year of college. I came with my parents; none of us had ever been to D.C. and we wanted to see what there was to see. What's remarkable to me now is how some of it hasn't changed (e.g. Air & Space Museum). I realize history doesn't really change much, but you'd think there might have been some updates in 20 years.
As a nineteen year old my favorite memorial was Mr. Jefferson's. It's not easy to get to on foot, but the location is superb. It's late October and the leaves are burning yellow and orange; the tidal basin is awash with color. My forty year old knees resisted the climb up the marble steps, but we all made it to the rotunda and stood there reading the excerpts from the Declaration of Independence and Jefferson's pledge to rail against the tyranny of the mind. I felt a surge of my old youthful idealism returning. It never really left, but it is buried deeper now, pushed aside by the pragmatism that comes with age.
Jeffersonian in my youth, I'm more Lincolnish now. Our third president may have been our greatist idealist, but our 16th was our finest realist. Everyone at the Lincoln Memorial stops to read the Gettysburg Address; it's probably the most famous presidential speech ever given. But this time I made sure to read the second inaugural address, and it nearly moved me to tears, especially the line about wringing one's bread from the sweat of another man's brow. As a middle-aged man I appreciate the skill it took to keep it all together even as it was about to fall apart. Lincoln had the eloquence, intelligence, and moral force to reunite the divided house. Of course like most people with those skills, he was murdered for it (see also King, Martin Luther). Those people who try to claim that Ronald Reagan was our greatest president always crack me up; they need to pay a visit to the west end of the reflecting pool.
So you're probably wondering if I've even paid attention to the NCHC meeting, what with all this philosophizing about our presidents and all. Well, yes, I have. I listened with great interest to someone at one of our peer institutions talk about their admissions procedure, so much so that I may steal it next year. I got some good fundraising tips. But I also sat through some sessions that devolved into gripe sessions and hand wringing about how busy these people are and how burned out they're getting, etc., etc. I don't study that. If you dislike it so much you should quit. One piece of advice I got when I started this job is that you should always be prepared to walk away. The moment it's not fun or challenging anymore it's time to move on. My main beef with this whole affair is that it's too negative, too much like a group therapy session. So I'm dubious about the value of the whole thing.
But I do appreciate the chance to reflect on things. So thanks for bringing me to D.C., NCHC.