Why students should visit D.C.

Cartoon by Gabbie Evans

JENNA VORIS | OPINION COLUMNIST | jmvoris1@butler.edu

It was October when I booked a hotel room in Washington D.C. for spring break.  I loved history, knew every lyric to “Hamilton,” had just watched the movie “National Treasure” and was ready to celebrate the first female president with a visit to the White House.

In November my mom asked warily if my friend and I still wanted to go. I thought about it. I was still stunned and upset by the results of the election and the last thing I wanted to do was give a boost to the already swollen ego of our newly appointed commander in chief by paying a visit to his house.

But, in the end, going to Washington was about more than who happened to sit in the Oval Office.  All college students, regardless of political association or lack thereof, should pay a visit to our nation’s capital.

I love history and politics already, but even those who aren’t as invested can find something of interest at one of the 14 different Smithsonian museums.  With everything from exhibits on space travel in the Air and Space Museum to learning about human origins in the Museum of Natural History, it is impossible not to be engaged with something.

It’s a requirement to pick a major in college; but, that does not mean that students have to abandon all others interests. I’m never going to be an astronaut, but being surrounded by space suits and telescopes took me back to the days I would climb a tree with my “Magic Tree House” book and pretend I was blasting off to space with Jack and Annie.

There is also a difference between spending your entire academic career learning about something in class and actually seeing it in person.  Washington D.C. is so full of rich and complex history that it is almost impossible for students to take it in from the pages of a book.

When I saw the Declaration of Independence in the National Archives building, I had to pause. The document was fragile and so faded that I could barely make out the signatures, but it was actually there.

Sure, I had taken American history classes since third grade and knew all about how John Hancock signed the document with such a large signature because he wanted King George to be able to read it without his glasses, but that didn’t compare to the feeling of seeing the real declaration in front of me.

And then, after that moment of existential crisis, I turned to my friend and whispered “I’m going to steal the Declaration of Independence” before leaving the room.

College students have the ability to impact change and influence our nation’s trajectory whether they know it or not.

For me, an upper-middle class white girl from Indianapolis, it is easy to forget that millions of women, immigrants and people of color died for an America that could be a home for them too.

When I stood in front of the Lincoln Memorial, where Martin Luther King Jr. gave his famous “I Have a Dream” speech more than 50 years ago, I thought about what it would have been like to stand in that crowd and know that I was a part of something much bigger than myself.

Our own Butler Bubble can make the world seem safe and simple but the truth is more complicated than that.  America is so much bigger than one person.  It is over 200 years of growth and change and struggle.

It is also deeply flawed.  The ideals that America was founded upon — life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness — have fallen to the wayside in favor of discrimination, bigotry and inequality.

The irony of Donald Trump sitting in the White House less than a mile from where Martin Luther King spoke about friendship and love and justice is not lost on me.  Regardless of my reservations, Trump’s presidency will be documented in textbooks across the country, just like the other men who came before him.  

Washington, D.C., is a symbol of that imperfect American ideal — the one that the signers of the declaration had in mind when they wrote their names large enough for the King of England to read — but it is also a reminder of how far we have to go.