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    Wednesday, August 30, 2006

    Traveling in Virginia this week

    My colleague Kenneth and I have been traveling through the Commonwealth of Virginia this week. We started out by driving down to Fredericksburg, where we met up with Andrew Lamar, the state chairman of the Virginia Federation of College Republicans. Andrew is a great guy, very personable and very well-connected around the state. He traveled with us down to the University of Richmond, where we met with some of the leadership of the College Republicans there and also set up a table on campus for about 2 hours, doing outreach to students for ISI.

    Later that evening, we traveled back to Fredericksburg to Andrew's campus, the University of Mary Washington, where we did a "Get to Know ISI" soiree with about 25 conservative students. It was a blast and it functioned as a happy hour-style event at a local pub.

    On Tuesday, we traveled down to Charlottesville and met with a variety of students and professors involved with ISI, including the ISI Group, the Network for Enlightened Women (N.E.W.) and the Collegiate Network paper, The Virginia Advocate. We met up with these students to discuss ideas of what they and ISI have planned for the UVA campus in the upcoming year. They are all very motivated students. We also met with some of the leadership of the College Republicans at UVA to help get them more involved with ISI as well.

    Later that evening, Kenneth and I drove out to Harrisonburg, VA (just west of the Shenandoah Mountains) and met with a great group of students at James Madison University. First of all, what better name for an American university is there than James Madison University? The dinner included 2 ISI student campus representatives, a few College Republicans, 2 students from the "Dukes for Life" as well as the editor of the Collegiate Network paper, The Madison Review. They all have really enjoyed most of their experience at JMU.

    All of these students are now more excited about ISI and after meeting them, Kenneth and I are more excited to work with them in the future. We leave these meetings more energized to do the work of ISI, especially when we go around to campuses like UVA and see all the politically correct sensitivity signs everywhere... but the remnants of Western Civilization are alive and well. They may only be remnants, but they are keeping the traditions of America alive in the Old Dominion.

    Thursday, August 24, 2006

    Back to high school - 10 years later - the reunion!

    10 years. It has been 10 years since I graduated from St. Thomas Aquinas High School in Fort Lauderdale, FL. Oh how the time flies. I was reflecting on all the things I've done since high school. It's too much to list in this entry, but it's a lot. High school almost seems like another time in history, my history anyways.

    I have only kept in touch with 3 special friends since high school and they are Sean Gross, Lindsey Demerritt, and Crystal Ferrara. But, guess what? These 3 didn't go to the reunion. So, I was questioning, literally days before, whether I would go or not. So, finally I decided to choke up the $100 for the ticket (and probably another $100 for food, gas, and drinks) and go - all by myself. I was a bit nervous about that, and then I walked into the first event on Friday night at Mango's in Fort Lauderdale. Would I remember anyone? Would they remember me?

    I walked in to the registration table and thank the Lord they had name tags for everyone! During the course of the weekend, I would say about half the people looked the same and maybe half the people I didn't really recognize, so the name tags helped. Then, the memories came flashing back. All kinds of memories - from classes we shared, to parties, sports, concerts, and retreats.

    Everyone I saw and talked to seemed really nice, mature, grown-up, and laid back. You often hear that at high school reunions people are trying to "impress" each other. I saw none of that, at least not that I could notice. People generally were interested in each other and in what everyone was doing, where they were living, and what they've been up to for the past 10 years. Many people, including myself, mingled with about as many people as they could, exchanged business cards, phone numbers, and emails and said, "let's keep in touch" or "I'll look you up when i'm in (your town)". Sometimes you wonder how much people really will keep in touch, but I'm sure that a few will with me and with others.

    The first night was designed to be a happy hour that was supposed to last from about 5:30-8pm. I was there until 10:30pm! And, when I left, probably half the people were still there. I could have probably been there another 2 hours. The next day they had a beach cookout, which I missed to attend a family function for my cousin Kevin who is entering the marines. But, I did make it back for the dinner at the Riverhouse (restaurant) in Fort Lauderdale on Saturday night. That event was really nice, with some good food (served buffet style) and plenty of drinks to keep people socializing and in good spirits.

    We have lots of talent in my class - people in Hollywood, working at CNN and for Turner Broadcasting, performers, athletes, and even a few involved in politics. There were also a few police officers, fire fighters, and a host of teachers and those involved in the business world. About 150 of the 360 from our class made it to the reunion, and of those, I would say about 30-40% of them were married. Of those, a handful had kids, which they brought to the "tour of the school" (10 years later) on Sunday morning, which was followed by a Catholic mass at Our Lady Queen of Martyrs across the street from STA. The numbers significantly dropped for the mass/tour. Probably only about 25-30 people came to that on Sunday morning.

    There were about 5-6 couples from our class that married within the class. Pretty neat. I couldn't remember if some of these folks were dating while in high school or not. I assume some were, but I couldn't remember. All in all, it was an awesome experience and I have already been in correspondence with a number of people from the class who I otherwise would not have had the chance to reunite with had I not gone.

    The experience of going back was at first mildly uncomfortable to walk into, but I felt confident there would be plenty of others in my same boat, and there were. Strangely, that kind of sounds like the first days of high school. It was good to be back. There's probably no other stranger, yet interesting and worthy experience to have than a reunion. That's what life is all about - connecting and reconnecting with those you know and those you don't know. Uniting and reuniting is certainly an essential part of the human condition.

    Tuesday, August 22, 2006

    Florida fun

    I returned to Florida on Friday, August 11 and spent a week with my family and some friends. Here's some quick highlights:

    - played tennis with my dad and one of my brothers

    - ate lots of good home cookin' - thanks mom!

    - got together with my friend Jacqui from FAU and she told me all about her travels to Spain this summer and what it's like being a teacher in Florida

    - my friend Eric came down from Orlando and we spent a day at the beach and the pool

    - later that night, Eric, my brother Tony and his girlfriend went to see CANDLEBOX! They were back on tour after a 7 year hiatus. It was just like being back in high school

    - I attended my 10-year high school reunion, which I'll blog more about

    - My uncle and aunt had a really nice get together with a lot of the extended family to celebrate the fact that my cousin Kevin Gonzalez is going to be a Marine! He just graduated high school and is making us all proud! His younger brother David made a really nice video commemorating this decision and we all watched it. It was very emotional, but inspiring. At one point in the video, it showed video images of the planes hitting the WTC on 9/11, with audio from media describing what was happening, and with audio from President Bush saying, "we will find those who committed these horrible acts and we will hunt them down." At that point the video's spirits picked up as big words went across the screen with upbeat music as the words said, "Go Get'em Kevin!" We are proud of him and if he can pass the tests, I know he will make a great Marine!

    - I came back from Florida on Monday, August 21, and went right back to work

    Sunday, August 06, 2006

    I'm in Boulder - where's Ward Churchill?

    So, we got to Boulder on the evening of August 3rd. Enza and I came there to meet up with our other colleagues from ISI's Jack Miller Center for the Teaching of America's Founding Principles. It's a very new program that first kicked off last year with one summer institute. The "summer institutes" are 2-week long programs where about 30 young faculty (recent Ph.D.'s and advanced graduate students) are invited to take part in sessions conducted by distinguished faculty.

    Distinguished professors like James Caesar of UVA, Harvey Mansfield of Harvard, Peter Lawler of Berry College, Wilfred McClay of U Tennessee-Chattanooga, and a selection of others come and teach these young teachers how to teach America's founding principles in the classroom. They are very focused on literature such as The Federalist Papers and Tocqueville's Democracy in America. On Friday around lunch time, I gave a talk to them all called, "Inspire Your Students to Learn: An Introduction to ISI's resources."

    After the talk, I had a little bit of free time, so I decided I'd find Ward Churchill's office. Found it pretty quickly, where the Ethnic Studies office is located. They had some murals on the wall, which were, well... quite disturbing. It was all about how America is trying to recover from its history of slavery, domination, and oppression. They see the history of America as a history of oppression. Ward Churchill wasn't there. I had met him a few months back, but one of his colleagues that was there during this summer month, told me she thought he was in Japan with his wife. Professor Churchill's day at Colorado might be numbered since he is in a bit of a battle for his tenure (which is has been found out was given without qualifications).

    What was most striking to me is how politicized the CU Ethnic Studies department is compared to what the ISI professors are teaching. One view exposes why America is so unique and why it is a beacon of hope and freedom, while the other view takes a negative view of America and tries to show why America is oppressive. Just ask most immigrants a generation after they land on America's shores (and even some who are just now landing here). They'll tell you they've come because America is a land of opportunity. But I bet Professor Churchill would simply say, they were a "little Eichman."

    Boulder, by the way, is a beautiful city. About a mile from CU is an area of shops in a promenade on "Pearl Street". You can always see the mountains right there and the shops and restaurants open up to the center of the broad walkway, where there are plenty of people performing as if I was in Las Ramblas in Barcelona. The streets and the air were clean and it certainly seemed like such a liveable place. I actually would argue it might be the best college town there is. Although it's summer time, so one never can tell what a place looks like with an extra 30,000 people around. By the end of this trip, I was tired and about ready to return to the east coast.

    Saturday, August 05, 2006

    Wyoming and Colorado

    On Thursday, August 3 - my colleague Enza and I drove from Big Sky, Montana to Boulder, Colorado. In total - an 11 hour drive. Enza did most of it. She took the first 8 hours, making the last 3 seem pretty easy for me.

    We drove through some wide open spaces, with mountain ranges in the distance, and mostly flat open land (with some hills) and "a whole lot of nothing." Then, sometimes we would just come upon something that just looked really cool. At one point Enza said to me, "we should be taking pictures! we could make a calendar." Yes, these were picture perfect calendar scenes of natural wonders. At another point, Enza said, "How can people see this (natural beauty) and not believe in God." I thought the same thing.

    Being out on the road sometimes allows you to reflect, especially when you're driving through a state like Wyoming. At the suggestion of a student, CJ from Seattle Pacific, we stopped in Casper, Wyoming (his hometown). It was a very beautiful, nicely laid out city right next to the mountains. We found the restaurant he told us about "Sanford's" which was really cool. It was like TGI Fridays in the sense that there were memorablia all around, but it was way crazier looking then Friday's. Much more hip.

    After that one-hour stop, we poured it on to Boulder, Colorado... where we arrived on Thursday evening. We were welcomed into Boulder by the mountains, we just kept driving closer to them until you couldn't drive much closer. A beautiful city where we would spend the next 3 days, in the middle of the 2-week long ISI Summer Institute for the teaching of America's founding principles.

    Tuesday, August 01, 2006

    Prepared for Yellowstone

    On Sunday, July 30, we had an off-day between the two honors program conferences. After mass and breakfast, I was able to journey to and through our nation’s first national park, Yellowstone with my colleagues Enza and Judy.

    Yellowstone is certainly an interesting place. As land set aside for enjoying, it contains the elements of order and chaos all in one. There is chaos in the sense of the wildlife and the “wild” side of nature that you can observe. I saw herds of bison and elk; geysers, hot springs, and even a canyon. However, in a national park, there is also order to all of this wild chaos. You must drive through one of the park’s many entrances, manned by park rangers who charge $25 per car for parking tags. “It’s good for seven days,” said the ranger. “But I only have seven hours,” I replied. “That’s a shame,” he insisted, “you should come back more prepared.” Well, it was the one day off I had during my business trip, so two colleagues and I had a lot of driving to do around the park before we headed back to work.

    Yellowstone is certainly doable in a day. Sure, we didn’t see “everything.” But we did see a lot, as described above. We got our share of order and chaos in one of America’s most scenic places. We even saw order and chaos blend at one point, when, on one part of the long two-lane road that circles the southern part of Yellowstone, a park ranger stopped traffic in both directions so that a herd of about 30 bison could run by. Most of the bison stayed about 30 feet from the road, but at least five or six of them ran right in our lane or crossed over the pavement. At the moment, things felt out of control, but after a few minutes of coming within feet of a bison, things seemed to return to normalcy pretty quick.

    We also got to see Old Faithful, which after waiting for it for an hour and seeing it go up for maybe 3 minutes, we were not overly impressed. But, we saw it. Not sure it would be worth traveling thousands of miles for, but hey, it's nature working in a mysterious way, and as long as you remember that, it's pretty spectacular. Later in the day, we also saw the "Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone." It was awesome. Not quite "the" Grand Canyon, but still high enough for me to be nervous and also appreciate the majesty. There were also lots of mountains, prairies, and even a beautiful (and very blue) Yellowstone Lake.

    By the end of the day, we felt we saw more than the park ranger thought we would, so as we drove past the exit gate where we had entered 7 hours earlier, I rolled down my window and yelled (probably for my own peace of mind), "We came plenty prepared!"