The Fourth of July is, in my opinion, the quintessential summer event. You have the best of summer combined into one event: festivals, parades, watermelon, picnics, hamburgers, sparklers and — of course — fireworks.
As much as I love the Fourth of July, it can be easy to look at it as simply a fun summer holiday and miss the historical significance. Yes, there’s plenty of red, white and blue to go around, but what does that red, white and blue mean, and why are we celebrating it?
While exact dates are debated, the Fourth of July marks the celebration of the signing of the Declaration of Independence by 56 men, and the birth of our country.
Writing about the Declaration, author Naomi Wolf states, “Those words at the time they were written were blazingly, electrifyingly subversive. If you understand them truly now, they still are. … (T)hese men and women were radicals for liberty; that they had a vision of equality that was a slap in the face of what the rest of their world understood to be the unchanging, God-given order of nations.”
The Founding Fathers (and mothers) set out to change the world. They experimented with new, radical philosophies that today seem obvious. They declared their independence from an established stable country that had existed for centuries to form a new country in a land still being explored. It was indeed radical.
As college students, we are embarking on a similar journey, though on a much smaller scale. We are like those early colonies, in nebulous stages, still forming our identity and character. This is our personal Independence Day.
In the process, there are several lesson we can learn from our country’s Independence Day.
First, we must be patient with ourselves.
Too often, we view the Fourth of July as the birth of America, but the process took much longer. The Revolutionary War was raging. The Articles of Confederation stood in affect. Within a few years, rebellions like Shay’s Rebellion broke out across the country. The country threatened to fall apart before it even really began. It wasn’t until 1887, 11 years after the Declaration, that the Constitution was signed. And it was another four years before the Bill of Rights came to fruition.
Similarly, it may take a while for us to figure out our own lives. We may go through our own stage of the Articles of Confederation. We discover we hate our major. We may graduate and find our field not what we thought it to be. Things may not go according to plan. In fact, they rarely do. But, that’s OK.
It takes time to decipher our course in life. We learn to adapt and change when the need arise. We can figure it out.
Second, don’t be afraid to be bold.
The writers of the Declaration were revolutionaries. Instead of accepting government as a force that grants the people power, the founders argued the people granted government power. There existed rights the government could not take away.
They boldly proclaimed these ideas despite possible repercussions.
Historian Howard Zinn wrote, “I’m worried that students will take their obedient place in society and look to become successful cogs in the wheel — let the wheel spin them around as it wants without taking a look at what they’re doing.”
Don’t be afraid to stand up and take bold action.
Third, don’t throw the baby out with the bath water.
While creating a new form of goverment, the founders drew on past ideas and philiosophies. Just because they were seperating from the old order didn’t mean they abandoned everything from that order. They drew on the Magna Carta and Common Law. They remembered where they came from and used the best from the past to form a better present.
Independence can be exhilarating. In college, we finally come out from our parents’ wings. We learn to make decisions on our own and rely on ourselves. However, just because we are becoming independent doesn’t mean we reject everything our parents taught us.
In her novel “North and South,” Elizabeth Glaskell writes, “A wise parent humors the desire for independent action, so as to become the friend and advisor when his absolute rule shall cease.”
Our parents’ rule is ceasing but their influence doesn’t have to.
This Fourth of July enjoy the fireworks and hot dogs, but remember the examples of history.
Katie Harmer is is the issues and ideas editor at The Universe. This viewpoint represents her opinions and not necessarily those of BYU, its administration or The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.