Often missed on busy calendars, Constitution Day usually passes without a lot of thought or fanfare. But this Sept. 17, I want to encourage everyone to use the occasion to recommit to discussion across differences — something that was critical at our nation’s founding and in the centuries since.
All educational institutions that receive Federal funds are required to hold an educational program about the U.S. Constitution for its students on or around Constitution Day. At Southwest Minnesota State, we see this as a chance to leverage this historic document to ask our students and communities to reflect on what it means to be among the “We the People” charged with carrying out its message. Indeed, the founders knew that this would not be an easy task. In his transmittal letter to Congress, George Washington said, “Individuals entering into society must give up a share of liberty to preserve the rest.” He knew that the “magnitude of the sacrifice must depend as well on situation and circumstance.”
This constant weighing of liberty and sacrifice demands a deeper level of discussion than our society seems to be currently capable of achieving. For this reason, the college and university leaders who are part of Minnesota Campus Compact chose to focus a Constitution Day Initiative on dialogue. The Dialogue Initiative includes grants and training events for campuses planning enhanced Constitution Day programs focused on creating better conversations.
At SMSU, a number of events are planned to facilitate discussion and create dialogue across campus and throughout the community. On Sept. 17, Professor Doug Simon will be hosting a Lunch & Learn titled, “The Constitution in Contemporary Times,” in BA 161 at 12:30 p.m. There will also be a “Constitution Day Revue,” hosted in the SMSU Black Box Theatre on Sept. 18 at 7:30 p.m. Throughout the week Civic Engagement staff and Student Senators will be in the Student Center handing out pocket U.S. Constitutions, encouraging voter registration and playing Constitution Trivia to create awareness. I would also encourage you to stop by the McFarland Library to see their U.S. Constitution book exhibit that will be on display all week. All of these events and more are open for the public to attend. More details can be found online at www.SMSU.edu.
Dialogue alone, of course, will not result in strong communities. Reflecting on our responsibilities and discussing our options must lead to decisions about how we can all act and sacrifice together to form a more perfect union. We believe institutions of higher education like SMSU have a duty and mission to educate students with the skills, abilities, interests, and passions to take such action. We will continue to work together to find new ways of supporting those efforts here and beyond.