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Happy Birthday, Mr. President

Editorial Notebook

By Thomas P. Windom

After extensive lobbying, my birthday has been declared a University holiday, my blockmate happily announced when he realized that Feb. 16 was a day off. As many Harvard students probably did not realize, this past Monday was Presidents' Day, a national holiday that honors the contributions of George Washington and Abraham Lincoln.

But if this day is intended to designate the remarkable accomplishments of two of our nation's greatest Presidents, why don't we celebrate it more? The country as a whole pays little regard to the holiday. It does not matter what the occasion is; all that matters to us is the extra 24 hours of weekend.

Everyone knows a little about Washington and Lincoln. But the astounding actions of these two presidents go in one ear and out the other for too many. Our everyday lives are a torrent of choices, often of a mundane nature: procrastination or work, companionship or loneliness, chickwich or savory baked tofu. I know little about President Clinton's current sex scandal or our country's troubles with Iraq, and I really do not care that much. I place much more importance on what I am doing this weekend, why I have not asked that girl out yet or when I am going to have time to exercise tomorrow.

The 24 hours of the third Monday in February are a time for us to recall the greatness of two men who have extraordinarily affected our lives. Without Washington, who withstood external pressures, and Lincoln, who kept our nation together despite internal chaos, the United States might well not exist.

But I did not use the day to honor those long-dead national heroes. I did not participate in a parade, even though I did as a child. I did not pledge allegiance to the flag they preserved, despite the fact that I did so every day in high school. If I kept a diary, I probably would not have registered the day's importance, not even as an aside. Instead, I watched a movie, stayed at lunch a little longer, practiced for a house pool tournament and whiled away the hours until dinner.

So I take this opportunity to appreciate why we didn't have class on Monday. Thank you, Washington and Lincoln. On top of all your far-reaching accomplishments, you have made me think more about what it means to be part of a democracy and its rights and responsibilities. Most of all, you have given me more time to decide if I really want that savory baked tofu.

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