|Reflection on "An Expression of the American Mind"
Centre College junior Jennifer Paul looks back on her exciting week as a student coordinator of Centre's marathon reading attempt held during the Declaration of Independence Road Trip tour on campus Nov. 4-5.
RELEASED: Nov. 14, 2002
DANVILLE, KYI first heard the idea of a Guinness record-breaking attempt in conjunction with the news that an original copy of the Declaration of Independence would be paying a visit to Centre College.
Mike Norris, director of communications, informed me that a traveling copy of the Declaration would come to Centre in early November, and he suggested that maybe we could host an event that centered around the Declaration such as trying to break a Guinness marathon reading record. This idea, I understand, was originated by George Foreman, who along with Richard Trollinger, Carey Thompson and others made major contributions to this event. After doing some research into the record and determining that we might have a viable attempt, I sent an inquiry to Guinness. They sent back the guidelines that we had to follow in order to be considered for the record, and thus began the quest to break the Guinness reading-aloud marathon record.
Obviously, this event was going to take a lot of coordination, planning and participants. The old record had been 52 hours, so we needed enough people to read for at least that amount and more. One of Guinness' stipulations was that no text could be repeated within a four-hour time block, so we couldn't just read the Declaration continuously as we'd planned. It had to be accompanied by at least four more hours of reading.
Faculty members Clarence Wyatt and Milton Reigelman, along with input from others, assembled an array of worthy texts. We called these selectionswhich included the Declaration of Independence, the U.S. Constitution, and other selected passages from American history and literature"An Expression of the American Mind," the phrase Thomas Jefferson used to describe his Declaration.
After a few brainstorming sessions, we set an agenda and strategy. The attempt would begin at 1 p.m. on Sunday, Nov. 3, and to support voter turnout, would continue until 6 p.m. on Election Day Tuesday, Nov. 5 when the polls closed, making the record 53 hours.
Sarah Scott and others sent out invitations to the Centre College and Danville communities for people to participate in the attempt. At first the response was slow. There were gaps of time to be filled, but we were confident that we could get enough volunteers to successfully carry out the effort. The main goal of the facilitating team was to keep the attempt going no matter what.
When the day of the kickoff ceremony finally rolled around, I was more than a little nervous because there were still important details that hadn't been worked out. It was clear that the first hour would have to be played by ear and everything else would build from that.
As the attempt began with Mr. Jefferson reading the Declaration of Independence, the entire events of the following two days were put into perspective for me. I tried to imagine a time when freedom was actually valued and not taken for granted. The early colonists had risked their lives so that we could have liberty, but it seems like more and more people are losing sight of that notion. Voter turnout is declining and people no longer feel the need for civic involvement. If we don't make use of the freedoms accorded to us, then why were those people fighting more than two centuries ago?
The Guinness attempt started to unfold, barring a few minor scares, relatively smoothly. I was relieved to see a routine was established, but I was afraid to leave at that point. I had adopted the project as my own, and I wanted to be there to see it along every step of the way. I was pleased with the progress of the attempt through Sunday, but I wasn't expecting the things that Monday was to bring.
Monday was the day that the Declaration was to officially arrive in all of its pomp and ceremony. The Boyle County High School Band played the National Anthem and President Roush led the crowd in the Pledge of Allegiance. The specially designed postal truck arrived and the Declaration of Independence was delivered to the location it would hold for the next two days. And amidst the crowd's excitement around the Declaration being delivered and the ongoing Guinness attempt, my thoughts wandered back to the spirit conveyed by the words of the Declaration, "And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor."
This document embodied such powerful convictions and emotions that people still gathered to honor it, and pride began to swell inside of me.
As the day lengthened, more and more peopleliterally thousandscame through to see the Declaration, mainly school children, but members of the community as well.
And here is where I received my first surprise: people started to take an interest in our record attempt as well. They wanted to know what was going on, why we were doing it and how long we planned to go. They wanted to know if they could participate in the reading or help us out in anyway. People kept telling me how great it was that we were participating in such an event and how commendable it was that we were trying to bolster the American spirit and help encourage voter turnout. The support was unbelievable! Our list of readers was quickly filling up, and the community was offering to fill up early morning slots when the only people who should be up at that time are procrastinating college students who are trying to finish papers and study for tests.
By the time that Tuesday rolled around I couldn't wait to see how everything was going to wind up. People were excited about the elections and were excited about our record. We had so many volunteers by this time that there were no scheduled slots available. Not wanting to end the attempt while there was still so much support for it and while there were people who wanted to participate, I agreed to stay with the attempt as long as there were people to read. As five o'clock was drawing near, the time that the record would actually be broken, there was a discussion about who would be the person to read at the time the record was broken. I was astonished to learn that the honor had been bestowed upon me. I was flooded with emotions of excitement, pride and gratitude. And I soon realized that most appropriately, and unplanned, the text that was scheduled to be read was the Declaration. As I stepped to the podium, the excitement culminated and at one second past 5, the crowd burst forth in a celebratory cheer. We had broken the mark.
But the excitement didn't end there. People still wanted to be part of the record, so we kept going until there was no one left to read. At 9:13 p.m. on Tuesday, Nov. 5more than 56 hours laterthe attempt was ended.
Looking back over those couple of days it's hard to describe all of the emotions that I felt and what all it meant to me. It was hard to no longer be a part of everything once it was all over. I guess the best way to say it is, I was experiencing withdrawal.
One of the slogans of the Independence Road Trip was "How will it inspire you?" Well I can say that I was inspired more than I ever thought I would be. My faith in the human civic condition was restored by the support and turnout of the Danville community. My own interests were revitalized by all of the emotion, spirit and pride that surrounded the events.
It was a great experience for me and I can only hope to have more moments like that.
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