What Would King Want?

Why do we celebrate Martin Luther King, Jr. Day and not Gandhi Day? Why are MLK Day’s events mandatory? And why don’t we hear speakers like Dr. Benjamin Carson more often? Phillips Academy identifies itself as an international institution. Our school uses this worldly status as an excuse not to recognize, at least not formally, certain important events in American history such as the attacks carried out in New York City on 9/11. But on the third Monday of January each year, we commemorate the birth of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. by attending mandatory speeches, films and workshops. As you are probably aware, this is a distinctly American holiday recognized by only the United States federal government. If we are an international institution, why do we celebrate the birth of Dr. King and not the birthdays of other great leaders and advocates of peace? The United Nations declared on October 2, Mahatma Gandhi’s birthday, the International Day of Nonviolence. Why can’t October 2 be a special day for our multicultural school? It doesn’t make sense for an international institution to pick and choose which events and people to celebrate and teach their students about. If we celebrate MLK Day, we ought to celebrate Gandhi Day as well. Moreover, on special holidays such as MLK Day, events should not be mandatory. People who go to hear speeches and participate in the spirit of the day on their own volition appreciate what they are involved in much more than someone dragged unwillingly out of bed by the word “mandatory.” MLK and Gandhi would have wanted their days to be not of rest, but of peaceful cooperation and voluntary service. Instead of attending workshops and watching movies, we ought to have a day off so that people can go off-campus and do their own community service work. One of my house counselors, Instructor in English Tom Kane, asked my dorm whether we thought goodness was “taught” to us here at PA. An interesting discussion ensued, but one quote still resounds in my mind: “If you come to Phillips Academy bad, you’re not going to be good when you leave.” The same thought can be applied to community service. If holidays like MLK Day were not mandatory, people would do what they want to do. Some would stay home, while others would volunteer at a soup kitchen in Lawrence. Without the constraints of a mandatory schedule, we could use our school’s already extensive community service program to honor the spirit of service. The will to do good is huge at Andover. I am certain that students, faculty and staff would use the time given to them by a free day to participate in activities that exemplify the peaceful and generous philosophy of Dr. King. If there was one particular element of the most recent Martin Luther King, Jr. Day celebration that was undeniably great, it was the hour-long speech by Dr. Benjamin Carson. The speech he gave was interesting, inspiring, humorous, engaging and fiercely intellectual. Why don’t we hear speakers like this more often? We ought to hear people who are also willing to describe political correctness as “highly destructive” every month rather than every year. We should use a free Gandhi or MLK Day to put the goodness we’ve learned into action. Charlie Cockburn is a two-year Lower from Washington, DC.