Last month marked the 50th anniversary of President John F. Kennedy’s speech to Rice University in which he said, “We choose to go to the moon. We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win, and the others, too.”
Seven years later, Neil Armstrong took his one small step and for a brief moment brought Americans together. When Armstrong died, President Obama said, “Neil was among the greatest of American heroes — not just of his time, but of all time. When he and his fellow crewmembers lifted off aboard Apollo 11 in 1969, they carried with them the aspirations of an entire nation. They set out to show the world that the American spirit can see beyond what seems unimaginable — that with enough drive and ingenuity, anything is possible. And when Neil stepped foot on the surface of the moon for the first time, he delivered a moment of human achievement that will never be forgotten.”
What both Kennedy and Obama recognized is the quintessential American spirit of exploration and discovery. The 21st century challenges that face humankind require the same curiosity and dedication exhibited by the Corps of Discovery, Robert Peary and Matthew Henson, Amelia Earhart, Jonas Salk, Sacajawea, Francis and Crick, Neil Armstrong, Stephen Hawking, Elon Musk, or Robert Ballard. Today’s students must develop that spark of creativity, the inquisitiveness and drive to discover the unknown.
The true American character is about attaining the impossible through exploration, scientific research, innovation and creativity. America continues to inspire the dreamers, the courageous, the adventurers and the resolute to reach farther, to build greater and to strive to make America that more perfect union.
We do not view our federal holidays as trivial matters. They drive our nation. They give us pause. They serve as moments of reflection, as well as celebration. For many Americans, Columbus Day no longer fits the litmus test of credibility and relevance. Federal holidays should be a day celebrated by the vast majority of Americans regardless of background or political orientation. When Congress created a federal holiday to honor Christopher Columbus, most of what was widely known about him was a myth – a myth which Columbus himself helped perpetuate.
Re-dedicating Columbus Day as Exploration Day will allow those who wish to commemorate his accomplishments to continue doing so. But for those who find Columbus’s role in history disquieting, it will enable them to celebrate the day in a very different way. Exploration Day covers the depth and breath of America’s rich history of exploration, research and discovery. Thus, Exploration Day will be something that unites rather than divides. Since Stage 2 of our efforts began on 10/2/12, we’ve had a groundswell of signatures and social media on a petition to change the holiday’s name and focus.
by Karl Frank Jr. and Rod Wright