Dear North High Families,
This month marks the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. I remember watching the news coverage nearly all night long and trying to grasp what this liberation would mean to the people of Germany and to other Eastern European countries. I was a foreign language teacher at the time and was amazed that my students were only mildly interested in the events. They did not seem to understand my incessant discussion about the fall of communism and the hope I was feeling for all those who were liberated. I understand now that my students did not have the perspective nor experiences to truly value the fundamental liberties we have as Americans; therefore, they could not see the absence of those liberties nor did they see how this change would impact the entire world.
During the summer of 2008, I visited several countries formerly under communist rule while on a cruise in the Baltic Sea. The two days I spent in St. Petersburg, Russia, were unforgettable. Another port city I visited was Gdansk, Poland, where I saw the memorial to all those who stood strong through the shipyard strikes as well as the beautifully restored buildings that had been damaged in WWII. When we stopped in the port city in northern Germany, I took a train trip into Berlin and saw first-hand the sections of the Wall still standing, the Brandenburg Gate, and Check-Point Charlie where all visitors passed from the east side of the city to the west side. As I was taking all of this in, I remember thinking, “I can’t believe I am really here.” When I was a young girl I never would have imagined an American being able to travel safely to a liberated Russia, Poland or East Berlin.
Passengers on the cruise were from all over the world. I was humbled by the amount of information non-Americans knew about our presidential election. Because it was the summer before the 2008 election, that was often the topic of conversation around the dinner table and at any spare moment of a tour. People from all around the world were tracking our presidential campaign and were imagining the impact of the election result on themselves regardless of which candidate was elected. I was impressed with their interest and knowledge and embarrassed that I knew so little about their homeland, let alone the politics of their country. As hard as I tried not to be, in this situation I was the ego-centric American who was not seeing how the lives of others would change as a result of our political decisions.
As I listened and watched the coverage of the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, it occurred to me that our high school seniors do not remember a world with an East and West Berlin. To them, it is simply history. Looking back, I am not sure I fully grasped the impact the unification would have on my life and on our world as the political, economic, and social conditions changed in Europe. One of the challenges of living in a global society is to help students develop the habit of seeing themselves in the world and noting how they are connected to the people in other countries. The political, economic and social changes in the United States do have an impact all over the world, and vice versa.
As Americans we have much to be thankful for. I hope that in this season of giving thanks, we all take time to think about our place in the world and truly appreciate all the wonderful things and opportunities we have—even in these most trying economic times. I hope you will also find a special way to express your gratitude for those and to those who are dear to you. I am forever grateful for all of you and for having the opportunity to be part of such a wonderfully diverse school community where I am continuously reminded of our interconnectedness.