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Four Years at the Mount

This month we had the writers get in touch with their creative side and asked them to write a creative piece surrounding Independence Day. We hope you enjoy our stories!

Fourth of July

July 2016

Not So Self Evident

Michael Kenney Jr.
MSN Class of 2019

"The care of human life and happiness, and not their destruction, is the first and only object of good government." Ė Thomas Jefferson

This Fourth of July marks the 240th anniversary of the nationís founding and, thus, the adoption of the Declaration of Independence. My experience of living in the Metro-Detroit area has reinforced my profound appreciation for our nationís founding principles. "Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness" are the lifeblood of the American Dream. Neglect of these rights is the root cause of civil unrest.

The America I know is very different than that of the people living only a few miles from where I live. Over the course of my 30 minute drive to my all-menís Jesuit high school, the neighborhoods deteriorate before my eyes. Shopping centers, neighborhoods, grocery stores, and business centers are replaced by gentlemanís clubs, liquor stores, nearly a dozen medical marijuana centers, and abandoned homes.

Less visible realities also mark this transition. According to a 2009 Time Magazine feature article, 99% of all graduates from my high school attend college while only 25% of freshmen attending Detroit Public Schools graduate from high school. Moreover, Detroit residents experience three times the poverty rate when compared to the rest of the nation

Tragically, an area code is a likely indicator of a childís success rate. What is the source of this fractured America?

While some contend that more money would remedy this insidious cycle, this is a red herring ó a phantom solution. Was it not the tantalizing thought of money that evoked the construction of the sketchy establishments that I described previously? Indeed, pouring money can potentially perpetuate the chaos rather than remediate it.

Others blame racism, violence, and poor educational opportunities. But perhaps these tragedies are mere manifestations of a more deeply rooted issue. When societal values and practices diverge from the principles upon which our society was founded, chaos occurs.

Just think about it: If I wanted to learn how to fix my car, I would read the carís instruction manual. If I wanted to be a better Christian, I would read the Bible. So, if I wanted to restore American exceptionalism in inner city settings, I am logically drawn to our nationís founding document, namely the Declaration of Independence.

The Declaration of Independence promises to uphold the inalienable rights of "Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of happiness." Values and practices estranged from these principles impede the American Dream and promote abject cycles.

Life:

The founding fathers intentionally began their list of inalienable rights with the right to life. All other rights are contingent upon the right to live. How can one have the freedom to get an education, vote, or hold office if they are not first alive? The right to life is the foundation upon which all other rights are upheld; thus, if honoring this right is not of primary importance, collateral injustice occurs in a variety of aspects.

In certain sectors of America, specifically Detroit, this right to life is threatened both directly and indirectly. Gang violence, homelessness, and hunger all abet a culture of death. A culture of life grows when human life is honored in its most vulnerable stages. In particular, if new life is not welcomed, all of human life is susceptible to manipulation.

Liberty:

Authentic liberty is rooted in the respect for the dignity of all. Liberty is not the right to do whatever one wants to do. This misguided understanding of liberty always results in someoneís rights being trampled upon. True liberty honors the common good and recognizes that we all have a responsibility to exercise our freedom wisely, respectfully, and virtuously. This is far from the false notion that liberty is the right to do whatever someone wants to do.

Pursuit of Happiness:

Once the right to life is recognized and authentic liberty is honored, the right to pursue happiness is the next logical step. The right to pursue happiness is just tható a pursuit, not an expectation. Happiness does not just come; it is earned through hard work.

I contend that a functional, two-parent home and a sound education puts children on the surest trajectory to achieve the American Dream.

Statistically speaking, those born into a two-parent family have the greatest potential to achieve happiness, and by contrast those coming from a single-parent household are at a much higher risk of living in poverty. While only six percent of two-parent households live in poverty, approximately one third of households run by a single mother are below the poverty line.

Likewise, a childís education is vital to their socio-economic success later on. A shocking 40% of impoverished children are not prepared for primary schooling. Additionally, low income students between the ages of 16 and 24 are seven times more likely to drop out than those from families with higher incomes. Consequently, students with a poor educational background generally economic difficulty at rates much higher than their more educated peers.

My Solution

So if I served in a capacity to make sweeping policy impacts in inner city settings such as Detroit, how would I break the cycles of poverty, abuse, and crime? I think that is imperative to incorporate policies that align our founding principles.

In right to life matters, I would keep human dignity at the forefront of policymaking by celebrating new life and encouraging the family unit. I would instill policies that outlaw abortion and make the foster care and welfare systems more appealing.

Some would argue that contraceptive education incentives responsible parenting; however, I have concluded that contraception abets a use-and-abuse mentality, where men and women are perceived as objects rather than valued partners and potential parents. If women are objectified, so too will the children they carry. Statistics illustrate this very point. Ironically, as society has defaulted to a "contraceptive mindset," out-of-wedlock births and abortions have skyrocketed. In 1960 a mere 5.3 percent of American infants were born to single mothers. In 1990, the number grew to 64 percent of African American infants and 18 percent of Caucasian infants. With contraceptive use at a much greater height in 2012, however, over 40 percent of all American infants were born into the homes of single mothers. Case and point: contraception does not encourage a more stabile family unit, but more functional foster care and welfare system could.

In matters regarding the right to liberty, I would make sure people are encouraged to make lawful decisions by allowing rehabilitation access to incarcerated citizens. I would incorporate fellowship programs that promote a more intimate partnership between police and the community. I recognize that people make unlawful decisions because they perceive a glass celling, in which breaking the law is their only way to survive. That is where laws encouraging the pursuit of happiness come into play.

In order to make sure as many people are set on the best track to achieve the American Dream, I would encourage school of choice options, where a student can qualify to receive bussing services to a more quality school district if they have demonstrated a commitment to their academics. This would make school systems more competitive, and thus, teachers would be held more accountable for the students they guide. Additionally, I think it is key to encourage young people to internships. This would both expose students, new consumers, to a breadth of inner city businesses while also exposing youth to professional environments.

After college, I intend on returning to Detroit and encouraging our founding principles through adolescent development work. In particular, it is a great goal of mine to help restore the education system in Detroit.

Amidst this Fourth of July season, I bid a sincere "happy birthday" to the greatest nation on earth, and a reverential thank you to our military and their families for all the work they do to defend life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

Read other articles by Michael Kenney Jr.


In MemoriamÖ

Sarah Muir
MSM Class of 2018

I planned to write this article as a story of my own creation featuring the Fourth of July, of course, and the patriotism and the determination of the American spirit; However, recent events have caused me to stray from this train of thought and, while I will mention the beauty of Independence Day, I will focus more on memories very near and dear to my heart.

I might have mentioned that when I was little I went to an all-girls Catholic school called Visitation Academy. It was opened in 1846 and run by the Sisters of the Visitation, which would continue to run the school until the order was moved in 2005. I was around eight years old when they left and still remember them very well. They were some of the greatest and kindest women I have ever met and my family was close to them. My father (along with others who had daughters at the school) would take weekends to help spruce the place up. Sometimes, my sister and I would go with him and play with our friends on the empty campus. I have many memories that originate from that school and they will remain with me forever. I have one in particular that I wish to share.

In my last article, I talked about my most cherished summer memories. I unknowingly left out an old tradition my family used to do on the Fourth of July every year. Independence Day is a great holiday: The smell of freshly mowed grass, and hot dogs and hamburgers sizzling on the grill and friends and relations gather in excitement under the fireworks. My family would celebrate the evening of the Fourth of July at the school. The nuns were, for the most part, cloistered and whatever money they did receive went back into the school. They lived very meager and humble lives and because of this, some families would bring them home cooked meals; my family was one of them. For July, my father would get for them a special treat; crabs. This delicacy was a favorite of the Sisterís. They would sit around the table, roll up the sleeves of their blouses and armed with wooden mallets they would enjoy their crabs in the summer evening.

Afterwards, they would allow my dad to borrow the keys to the topmost floors and our family, along with a few others would make the dusty, dark, and more than somewhat frightening journey all the way to the final door that lead to the Widow's Walk. This is a small, circular space on the roof of one of the buildings. It did not have a roof itself, only a white and black railing that surrounded the platform. The view, as I remember it, was spectacular. All of Frederick spread out before us and we seemed to be alone up there, above the streets. The warm July evening hung around us and we waited for the fireworks. First, you would hear faint popping noises and expecting ears would prick up in anticipation then the tell-tale whistle of the firework as it went up and up and up and then, bang! The night would explode into a burst of color and everyone would start to smile. Up on the roof, with my family, we would watch as the night would thunder and light up over and over with effervescent hues. Our faces would look to the sky as reds, greens and blues would capture our attention, a band somewhere in the distance would play the National Anthem, and the skyline of Frederick would bask in the kaleidoscopic glow of the fireworks.

Memory is a funny thing. Traditions often times meld together and one event becomes slurry of memories and you are not really sure if one particular instance happened three years ago or five. For example, I remember seeing the fireworks over Frederick, but the only day I truly remember is that one year in particular when it was raining and it was unlikely that the fireworks would even take place, but we still stood upon the roof, huddled under umbrellas. If I am completely honest, I do not remember whether the fireworks even happened that night, but I do remember the rain and the quiet laughter of those around us. I remember the feeling of being there, embraced by the brick walls that guarded this small plot of land that, to me, was a sanctuary from the rest of the world.

I will always remember Visitation Academy and will always hold all these wonderful memories deep in my heart. We would go up to that look out for several years on the Fourth of July until the Sisters left and we stopped. We still saw the fireworks, but it was not the same. So much has changed since the school opened, but it managed to last for 170 years of history; through Civil War and times of peace. Regrettably, the schoolís door will be closed by the time this paper is published, and a long tradition ended.

While my heart is broken, small part is happy for the memories I have of the Visitation Academy. A piece of me remains with that school, no matter what changes take place. I have lasting friendships thanks to that school and wherever I am in life I can close my eyes and be teleported years away, on that roof, watching the fireworks, as a band somewhere plays the National Anthem.

Read other articles by Sarah Muir


Pizza!

Leeanne Leary
Class of 2017

"Mama mama canít you see, what the armyís done to me."

Okay this is the eighth cadence. The first five took about two minutes each and the next two were short Ė it has probably been about eight minutes Ė so maybe one click, maybe.

"They put me in a barberís chair, spun me around I had no hair."

I turned to McCoy, marching to the same cadence directly to my right. For the sixth time this week, we marched side by side, but no words had been spoken. What better time than the present?

"Hey, McCoy, I lost my watch. Do you know what time it is?

"0841" he responded.

So it hasnít been as long as I thought. Normally, time doesnít seem to drag on this way, but we have been up since 0345 and it is the Fourth of July. We have been promised pizza and two beers by the end of the day and after almost a month of MREs, nothing sounds better. I have to find a way to make it through the next couple of hours. Weíre currently marching from what has been our operating area for the last few weeks. Last year, cadets commented that Cadet Summer Training wasnít "physical enough," so they threw in this casual 13 mile ruck march back to the barracks on the last day of the field training. For my particular regiment, this final day also happened to fall on the Fourth of July.

"Mama mama canít you see, what the armyís done to me."

I need to find a way to successfully not lose my mind for the next 12 (ish) miles. I donít really want to talk to McCoy. He is the only person whose first name I havenít even learned yet, but it is almost time to go home. Iím tired, and he also hasnít made an effort.

"They took away my favorite jeans, now Iím wearing army greens."

Okay, enough of this.

"Hey, so, McCoy, where are you from?"

"New York," a grumbled response.

Nodding, I turned back to face the front. How does one even continue this conversation? He didnít ask where Iím from. He didnít expand. He didnít even seem happy to answer.

"Thatís cool, Iíve never actually been to New York! Iím from Pennsylvania, but closer to the Maryland border."

"Oh, nice," another grumble.

"Mama mama canít you see, what the armyís done to me."

Okay, McCoy, if you donít want to talk to me, Iíll talk to myself.

And so I did, for the next hour and 46 minutes.

"I use to date beauty queens, now I love my M16."

Finally! I can see the barracks. I can see the place where I will sleep tonight and the field behind it where we should be getting pizza shortly. We came to a halt, faced left, and were told to (finally) drop our rucks.

I dropped mine and tried to sit on it, and my legs buckled on the way down. They had apparently grown accustomed to the weight on my back and the steady "left, left, left, right, left" cadence coming from the Platoon Sergeant. I laughed to myself as I fell backwards and looked around for my friends. Winding was two people down to my left and I could see Burne two columns over on the other side. I tried to make eye contact with Winding, making an upside down triangle with my hands to indicate pizza. Somehow, she knew what I meant, or maybe her mind was on a single track to food as well, and she laughed and pointed behind her where three men were walking towards the platoon, each holding what looked like six or seven boxes of pizza. Two people followed behind the pizza carrying water jugs.

The men looked like pizza, their names honestly might as well have been pizza. One was pepperoni, one was ham, and one was gooey and delicious cheese. They walked like pizza.

The pizza men set up at a table to the right of our formation and one by one, everybodyís heads snapped to the front to wait for a "fallout to the pizza" command.

We waited, staring at a platoon sergeant whose name was also now pizza, as he stared directly back at us, unflinching.

One minute went by and he never looked to the tables. Two minutes, now, and he still hadnít looked. Three minutes finally passed and a smile crept onto his otherwise unwavering face. A tiny laugh escaped from his mouth as he shouted "On your feet!"

"On my command, you may now form a line at the pizza tables, fall out!" he finished.

I remember nothing from the two minutes and 30 seconds that followed that command. When I finally came to, I was sitting back on my ruck, starting my second piece of pizza, ham this time. The first had been just enchanting. The cheese seemed to drip and ooze in all of the right places. The sauce was hot, but not too hot. The crust was the perfect kind Ė not fluffy and pointless and not tiny and unsatisfying.

Two bites into the second slice and the pizza seemed to morph shapes. It wasnít actually gooey and hot and satisfying; frankly, it kind of tasted like cardboard.

I guess hunger and weeks of MREs can play games with your mind. It was okay though, it only took a few seconds to snap back out of it and re-enter my pizza dream land.

I finished my second slice and looked around, McCoy was directly behind me. He had a huge smile on his face and the second I looked at him he shouted in a voice ten octaves too high, "Wow, isnít this great?" Bite. "I canít get over how good this pizza is!" Bite.

Laughing he looked back at his pizza and continued.

I guess hunger did some pretty strange things to him, too.

"Mama mama canít you see, what the armyís done to me."

The cadence still rings in my head as I try to sleep. Iím not even hungry anymore.

Read other articles by Leeanne Leary


The real story of the battle at Lexington

Katie Powell
MSM Class of 2015

CRASH! Mollie woke up in a cold sweat. It was dark, past midnight. She lit a candle and crept out of her bed to look outside to see what was causing all the noise, and ruining her precious sleep. She quieted her four year-old brother Mathias on the way out, kissing his forehead as he rolled back into sleep. Mollie was a spunky 16 year-old who didnít know when to quit. Even now that the revolution against the British was underway, Mollie was always fearlessly heading out into areas that she knew were dangerous- just for the thrills. So far she had not been badly hurt, a couple scabs on one knee and a cut above her eye that left a scar through her eyebrow told stories of nights she had flirted a little too hard with the enemy.

On this particular night, Mollie bit off more than she could chew. She thought maybe she had heard a carriage crash or a barrel tip over or something of the like. What she found was far, far worse.

A battle had occurred right outside of her tiny home in Lexington. A dead Brit lay on her doorstep, shot in the head. Impressive shot, she thought. Scuffling behind her. She turned and saw her Minutemen marching valiantly on. Her eyes shone in the light of her candle. She loved the Minutemen. She was so impressed with their determination and swiftness despite their lack of formal training. She was especially fond of their youngest recruit, 18 year-old Richard. Mollie had always been close with Richard. They were best friends from a young age, but had grown apart since the battles had started. They had changed Richard. Mollie wanted nothing more than to get her best friend back.

As the Minutemen disappeared into the night, Mollie had an idea. Maybe it was the heat, maybe the wretched smell of the battle-torn town, or maybe it was sincere and absolute desperation to get her friend back, but regardless, Mollie grabbed the dead Brit from the street and dragged him into an alley. She sighed and took the British soldierís clothes, pulling on the funky white pants and distasteful red jacket before salvaging a gun from the horrible scene. Then, she went to find her enemy.

She walked cautiously, following the sound of crackling fire that she knew would lead her into the belly of the beast. She knew a Minuteman would cut her down before they recognized her fierce green eyes and the scar on her left eyebrow under the huge lopsided hat she got from the Brit. So, she made her way through the alleys, avoiding main streets and creeping as if she were trying not to wake Mathias.

She made her way out of town and into the woods, avoiding the crunchy leaves. Then she heard it. Laughter. She watched the soldier from behind a tree as he wandered off alone. Bathroom break? Mollie thought. Perfect! She jumped out from behind the tree and ran at him hard, bayonet first. She made contact and he thudded to the ground. Her head spun and she tried to regain her focus. She just killed a man. She rolled him over and realized who it was that she had killedóa British lieutenant. She froze. They would notice him missing. She climbed a nearby tree and waited. Mollie got herself into trouble a lot, but she knew how to get herself out. It was early morning now, the sun had just barely begun creeping out of the ground. The British soldiers were asleep in their camp, so Mollie knew it was time to act. She sprinted back to town, took off her hat and her face, and rang the large bell that summoned the Minutemen. She hoped to heaven they recognized her face before her uniform.

Richard was the first one there, and he walked up to Mollie sword drawn. She raised her hands slowly and said, "Hey Ricky." He took a step back as if he had just stepped on a rattlesnake, then moved swiftly toward her.

"What do you think youíre doing?" He whisper-shouted.

"I killed the lieutenant," Mollie gasped. "It wonít be long before they wake up and realize. We have to do something." The other Minutemen had gathered by this point, and started to formulate a plan.

"No, we have to do something. You have to go back to bed, little girl." A townsperson sneered at her, condescending and certainly resenting the fact a woman killed a higher rank than anyone in the tiny army. Richard stepped in.

"Mollie is more fearless than any of us, and certainly has more heart. I donít think anyone deserves to be part of this mission more than she does. If that is a problem for anyone here, than you should be the one to leave, not Mollie." A couple men left, but most stood firm.

"So what do we do?" A voice from the back.

"They are asleep in the woods. If we surround them, I think we can take them out. They donít have a leader. I killed him." Mollie said, wavering at first but finding her voice.

The Lexington Minutemen trekked into the woods silently, torches ablaze, following their fierce leader. Mollie signaled for them to surround the camp, and on her go, they threw their fires onto the tents and attacked. They killed many of the British soldiers and took several as prisoners.

It was a small victory for the ragtag band of minutemen in Lexington. However, it was the very first battle of the American Revolution. And I swear, that is how it really happened: Mollie, the 16 year old girl in a sleepy town, helped to defeat the British armyóalong with countless other women dressed as men.

Read other articles by Katie Powell

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