Student Life

Visions of Cherry Blossoms

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Cherry Blossoms

On the evening of Thursday, March 31, Leadership students came together for a combination tour of the Cherry Blossom festival and history of the memorials surrounding the National Mall.

This annual Leadership event allows student to enjoy the festival scenery while simultaneously gaining insight into the leadership lessons offered by figures like Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Thomas Jefferson, whose memorials were included in the tour.

Leaders from all grades traveled together to the Mall, where they were joined by National Park service tour guide and AU graduate student Tim Moore. Moore, who is also a friend of former student director Stephen Laudone, introduced the Leadership students to the history of the District’s cherry blossom obsession, which can be traced back more than a century to the years of the Taft presidency.

Touring during the evening hours was an added bonus, giving students the opportunity to enjoy the cherry blossoms without the crowds of tourists that usually flock to the festival during the day.

After enjoying dinner catered by Angelico’s Pizzeria, students continued to the FDR memorial, which is divided into four rooms representing the four terms of Roosevelt’s presidency. Leading students through these rooms, Moore discussed their more little-known features and how they related to “the times and actions of Roosevelt.”

For example, Moore explained how the recurring theme of water and fountains in the memorial represented the capacity and the potential of Roosevelt’s leadership to enact change in the lives of citizens, starting out calm and growing in strength as the group made its way through the rooms.

Moore made a point to demonstrate that Roosevelt was never represented, in life or in his memorial, as having a wheelchair, which in recent years has angered disability awareness groups and individuals who see the former president as an inspiration for disabled individuals.

“Listening to our tour guide talk about the ‘controversy’ surrounding the issue of presenting Roosevelt in a wheelchair reminded me that I always have to think of how my actions will affect others,” says Cristina Kladis, freshman in the program.

Josh Halpren, a program first year, says Moore helped him to “see the memorial in a whole new light.” Classmate Katherine Maddente would agree, “I definitely learned a lot about the memorial… I don’t think I ever would’ve known the historical significance of all the different features if we didn’t go on that tour.”

Moving on from the FDR memorial, senior Stephen Laudone led the Leadership students on to the Jefferson memorial. Laudone, a veritable “History Wonk” when it comes to D.C. trivia, pointed out interesting facts and architectural features of the memorial.

For instance, the Washington Monument is shifted over so there’s a clear view between the White House and the Jefferson memorial, and on the walls are four excerpts from Jefferson’s work that highlight his main ideas.

When asked what she took away from the monument tour, freshman Jean Cornell identifies “the difference between how leaders are honored today compared to in the past. Jefferson’s memorial idealized him, making him somewhat of a god in a temple; FDR’s memorial, on the other hand, honored his work and focused on the people he served.”

After the conclusion of the tour, students could catch glimpses of the new Martin Luther King, Jr. memorial being constructed on the National Mall. The memorial, to be completed in August 2011, is located between the Roosevelt and Jefferson memorials on the Tidal Basin. Cornell described it as a “mix” of the two forms of honoring leaders, “highlighting both the man and his work.”

The tour is a great way for students to come back together close to the end of a busy second semester.

Margaret Marr, director of the program, described the tour as a way of coming “full circle” with the beginning of the year, commenting on its similarity to first semester events in Dupont Circle, when members of the Class of 2014 were just beginning to get to know one another.