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Four Years at the Mount

Junior Year

A leader through the ages

Kyle Ott
MSM Class of 2015

(1/2014) In many cultures, the idea of a birthday is an important one. Not only is it a time to celebrate bringing a child into this world, but it is also a time to celebrate the people who have come before us. Birthdays are often seen as a bridge between the past and the present. The date is important not only because it is distinctly yours, but also because it simultaneously belongs to the great figures that came before you.

My quest to understand the importance of my own birthday began a while ago. As a child, I have no memory of when the idea of my birthday became important. In my tiny little mind it was always just a day when people who were much taller, bigger, and smarter gathered in large groups to give me shiny gifts. I never had room to complain. There was always something sweet for me, like a brand new scooter that gave me the freedom to cruise down my driveway at Mach 5. It was the source of countless high-speed adventures and skinned knees for me, and many breathless prayers for my mom. Then there was the miniature chemistry kit that came with a tiny microscope and different anomalies trapped in slides of glass. I spent so many afternoons just lying on the green shag rug of our living room scanning everything from camel fur to preserved mold for the tiniest, most minute details. Then, of course, there were the parties themselves.

While it was tradition for me to receive one large gift from my entire family (like a scooter), my family didnít have a ton of money when I was growing up. We never went to a play land or mini golf course to celebrate like many of my friends did. Instead, my parents kept the party at our home. They used to spend hours with sheets of scrap wood and permanent markers, turning pieces of dead trees into everything from targets for footballs, to cork boards for bean bag tosses, to sweet interactive puzzles. My parties were the envy of my friends; everyone wanted to see what my parents would come up with next and how far we could stretch the resources of an inch into fun times that stretched a league or more. In this way, my birthdays were a celebration of the present. They were times when my family could gather, and although I didnít know it at the time, they were times when ripping open a myriad of colorful boxes meant a whole lot more than I thought it did.

As time went on, I started to realize that March 31 had a little bit of significance outside of the strange gatherings of people. At some point along the way I realized that we were gathering together to celebrate the fact that I had survived another year on this planet (a fact that astonished some of my family members, especially given my penchant for emergency room visits). However, it wasnít until I learned about someone else who shared my birthday that I began to understand that it was an event meant to connect me with others.

This is when I had the chance to go to and see who else throughout history shared the same date of birth as me. I have to say that I was pleasantly surprised to find that I shared March 31 with one of American Historyís greatest and most controversial leaders. While my birthday is some time from now, it is my wish, (and hopefully my gift) that this man who shares something with me shall not be forgotten. You know the date, but now here is a little bit about the man himself.

John C. Calhoun was a titan of states craft and American politics. The son of Irish immigrants, John C. Calhoun rose to power in South Carolina in the early 1800s and became the Vice President for James Monroe. He was renowned as a powerful voice for his state and the people that he called kin. He, along with other Southern Politicians like Henry Clay, helped lead a resurgence of southern politics.

Despite these fantastic accomplishments, what make Calhoun a controversial figure are the disputes that he had with President Andrew Jackson. Of these arguments that he had with the president, one dispute stands head and shoulders above the rest: the role of state sovereignty and how it conflicted with the wishes of the government. Thatís right, before anyone suited up in blue or grey, before anyone thought about brother fighting brother, John C. Calhoun was raising hell in the Senate about the needs of the people.

Whatís shocking to me is that, at a time when the idea of the Confederacy was a distant storm cloud on the horizon and the Civil War was a future event in the annals of history, this man was raising Caine. While some people would see sharing the same birthday as this man as something negative, I canít help but see it as something amazing for two reasons. One, despite whatever else Calhoun did in his lifetime, he was still a great leader. People still looked to him for wisdom and expertise; they trusted him with their hopes and dreams, their fears and ambitions. Love him or hate him, Calhoun was a force to be reckoned with in his time. Two, Calhoun is sort of forgotten by history teachers and students. He becomes just one more figure that is glossed over when compared to Lincoln, Douglas, and Lee. Itís moments like this, a cursory search of, that give me the chance to rediscover one of Americaís early political giants.

Hopefully this has been a testament as to why our birthdays are important, and also an incentive for you to go and learn a little bit more about what happened on the day you were born. Hopefully, you will discover something different about yourself, history, or the world around you. Iím Kyle Ott. Wonít you sit and read for a while?

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