Holiday Equality

This past Monday, Americans across the country celebrated Martin Luther King Jr. Day by honoring the life and work of Dr. King. At Phillips Academy, faculty and students alike observed the holiday by attending an All-School meeting and a required workshop or community service project. As a community, Phillips Academy honored Dr. King’s legacy of tolerance, peace, and equality by taking one full day out of the taxing Andover pace of life to reflect on the past, the present and the future of race relations in the United States. Martin Luther King Jr. Day is certainly deserving of one’s utmost respect and veneration. However, so too are the other federal holidays which the administration completely ignores when arranging the academic calendar. Martin Luther King Jr. Day earns the complete attention of the community for an entire day, while Columbus Day, President’s Day, Memorial Day, and Veterans Day all go unrecognized in the 2005-2006 academic calendar, Is Dr. King’s message more important than the message that accompanies any other federal holiday? Apparently the administration seems to believe it is. The school’s utter disregard for the heroic veterans who have courageously served our country and fought for the freedoms which we take for granted is both embarrassing and offensive. The school makes a pathetic effort to celebrate Veterans Day with a brief ceremony, but attendance is optional, and few students attend. In fairness to students, it is difficult to give up even half an hour of free time in the middle of a full day of classes. The administration should know this and, at the very least, require attendance at some sort of observance. Why does the administration consider commemorating Dr. King’s legacy so much more important than commemorating the gallant heroism of those who died in our country’s service and the positive change for which they are responsible? During the Civil War, Union soldiers fought courageously and with conviction to abolish the horrors of slavery and to uphold the Union. Regrettably, without their resolve, Dr. King likely would have been born into slavery and would have been denied the basic freedoms which allowed him to affect real change on society. In a couple of months on May 29th the majority of the school will take a final exam, while the rest of the country observes Memorial Day and honors those who have died in their country’s service. Every day, the American armed forces defend the basic freedoms that form the foundation of our society. In the current political climate at Andover, and throughout New England, it has become increasingly easy to blame our soldiers for one’s discontent with the current commander-in-chief’s military agenda. Regardless of this administration’s policy, it is absolutely necessary that we honor our soldiers and veterans as those who uphold the freedoms of the United States at home and abroad. As an educational institution, it is the responsibility of Phillips Academy to instill in its graduates respect and veneration for American soldiers and veterans. This responsibility is just as important as the responsibility to educate students on the past, present and future of race relations. Historically, Phillips Academy has honored veterans with pride, most notably in the construction of the Memorial Bell Tower as a monument to fallen alumni heroes of World War I. However, in recent years, this commitment to American soldiers has wavered. Neglecting to observe days designated by our government for the honor of our armed forces, while the administration delegates an entire day for the observance of Martin Luther King Jr. Day, is simply deplorable. The administration’s favored holidays extend beyond national holidays. The most glaring example is Yom Kippur. Of all the religious holidays on which to cancel classes, Yom Kippur seems to be a completely arbitrary choice. It is illogical that the administration would cancel classes on Yom Kippur for the sake of a small minority of Jewish students, while Christian students – the majority of the school – are forced to attend class on the Holy Day of Good Friday. For an administration that promotes equality and seems to care so deeply about impartiality, observing Yom Kippur, while ignoring other religious holidays, is contradictory and, completely abominable. The administration of Phillips Academy must develop some consistency when determining which federal and religious holidays are observed and in what capacity they are observed. Taking into consideration Andover’s commitment to equality and diversity, the administration’s current policy is illogical and inequitable. If students are forced to devote an entire day to Martin Luther King Jr. Day, they should be required to observe Veterans Day, Columbus Day, President’s Day and Memorial Day in the same capacity. The same holds true for Yom Kippur and all other major religious holidays. It is not the administration’s place to prioritize holidays. If the Phillips Academy community is to observe one national or major religious holiday, we must observe them all.