I wanted it to be perfect. I wanted it to be a day my students would never forget. I wanted the day to be like the Inauguration itself: Big. Wonderful. Groundbreaking. I hunted obstacles down weeks in advance– nothing would get in our way. No reception on the TV? No problem, we’ll get that fixed. The Inauguration scheduled during our lunch? Not a problem. We’ll have pizza delivered.
On January 20, We gathered on the carpet and read The Sweet Smell of Roses, a beautiful book about children who marched with Dr. King. We talked about the power of words to change our world. We brainstormed words that have inspired change, and can inspire change. I told them that during the Inauguration, they would hear these words and others. “Listen,” I said, “And echo the words that have power for you. Say them out loud.” I wanted my third graders to hear, feel, and know those words. I wanted them to take those words as their own.
I called the Pizza place. They told me that twenty people had called in sick. they had no drivers. The man who answered the phones was making the pizzas himself. It would be hours before he got to our order.
I turned on the TV. It was big. Wonderful. Groundbreaking…until the sound went out.
We went to another classroom. My students randomly, throughout the room, echoed the words they heard as powerful. I listened to their words as I listened to Elizabeth Alexander’s Inaugural Poem:
We encounter each other in words, words spiny or smooth, whispered or declaimed; words to consider, reconsider.
We went back our room and started on the “commemorative place mats.” Scissors were a blur in a haze of pictures and words and scraps.
We ate dessert first because it was a special day. And because the pizza hadn’t come.
Children cut red, white, and blue paper into strips; put words onto strips; put strips into chains. Word was added to word, strip was added to strip, chain was added to chain–longer and longer and longer. Every word important. Every word adding power to the others. “Like citizens in a democracy,” I told them.
Day was done. Buses called. Children dismissed.
I am always struck by Room 204 in the afternoon. So suddenly still. On this day there was red, white, and blue everywhere. Scraps, like confetti, covered the floor. The parade was gone leaving silence in its wake.
It hadn’t been perfect, but what a big grace-filled day. Big. Wonderful. Groundbreaking. It wasn’t perfect. It was just right.