I have always loved history and also found most of us have little real sense of it. And without that strong sense of history, how can we appreciate our family’s or our nation’s progress? One of my graduate degrees is in history, where I learned a deeper appreciation of the simple quote attributed to writer and philosopher George Santayana,
Of course, knowing our history is no guarantee we will learn from it, or change because of it. If we take a hard look at our history with slavery, racism or gun violence in America, we see some change but certainly nowhere near enough. But with no willingness to even look back and acknowledge what we were like in the past, no progress can be made.
I also enjoy learning about my own family history, which is made so much easier because my mother spent a few years researching both sides of my family back to Germany, Ireland and Scotland. My family history reflects so much progress from our humble immigration to America, to Kansas farmers, business owners, politicians and educators. My grandfather on my Mom’s side, a skilled technician, went door-to-door trying to find any kind of work to support his family during the Great Depression. He ended up owning a major business and took out patents on his many inventions. My grandfather on my father’s side had no time to complete high school, because he needed to go to work to support his family, but Grandpa Carter taught his sons to go to college and even graduate school! And yes, everyone in my parents’ generation became educated, productive citizens.
That is why, when I heard our Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield, Representative of the United States of America to the United Nations say this week to a class of college graduates: “You are your ancestor’s wildest dreams!” I felt so proud of my ancestors and myself!
We need to appreciate our progress as much as our shortcomings and knowing our history is the only way to do just that.