On November 13th I drove to Franklin, Kentucky to have dinner and share conversation with a group of people whom I had never met before. I was nervous to say the least.
Christian- Our gracious host. She is the Sustainability Coordinator for WKU and the owner of two incredibly playful and hairy dogs.
Chuck- Christian’s partner. An ex-Marine with a strong dislike for pineapple and spinach pizza.
Connor- A Louisville native who loves Game of Thrones and is a senator at WKU.
Jacob- A Cincinnati native who had recently gotten his gallbladder removed.
Ally- From rural Lexington and an expert on what to do when someone is stealing your trailer.
Me- A Bowling Green native who thoroughly enjoyed the vegan pumpkin chocolate- chip cookies.
Growing up my family hardly ever ate dinner together and our kitchen table was more of a place to set up homework or do school projects. Most nights I would be the last one home, coming from dance or work and I would go upstairs to say goodnight to my mom and little sister before reheating whatever they had made earlier. When we did have meals together it was done quickly so that we could get to our next activity or go do homework. The conversation never went past what we had done that day or what we had going on tomorrow. I had no idea that some people actually hold conversations and debate opinions at the dinner table. I was excited but very nervous about eating with people outside my family and trying to hold a conversation with people whom I’d never met.
I was the first to arrive even after first showing up to the wrong house (her neighbors are very nice people). I was greeted at the door by a smiling Ms. Ryan, two giant dogs, and the smell of cookies. A few minutes later Connor, Jacob, and Ally arrived. Connor and Jacob were both in class together and Ally knew one of them from another class, plus they had all driven up together so I was already feeling very apprehensive. Fortunately, my fears were unfounded as we quickly fell into casual conversation with everything from the elimination of the use of styrofoam in Fresh to how to make the perfect combination of pizza ingredients (Mushrooms and tomatoes go well together.) After the pizzas were made we got a tour of Ms. Ryan’s beautifully remodeled 1940’s home. It was amazing to hear about what it used to look like and how much work she had put into it for eleven years.
When it was finally time to eat we went into the dining room, put hand tie-dyed napkins in our laps, said grace and quickly tucked into our four amazing homemade pizzas and homegrown salad. As we ate we discussed the first question in our handout- what does citizenship mean to you beyond voting, paying taxes, and following laws? Chuck started the conversation by talking about how his view of citizenship is directly influenced by his experiences in other countries as a Marine. He discussed how amazing it is to be back in America and being able to walk down the street without being afraid that someone is waiting around the corner waiting to kill him, The safety in this country that we sometimes take for granted is what makes citizenship so important to Chuck. Next, Ally talked about how citizenship means the certainty of religious freedom without the fear of persecution. She discussed how amazing it is that we have to freedom to not only worship freely, but we also get to choose what we want to believe in without fear. I reiterated how amazing it is to have the freedom to practice the religion of my choice freely and also touched on how the opportunity for education is also central to my views of citizenship. Living in America gives me and others the incredible opportunity to continue our education. This is especially important to me because in other countries women and girls are not allowed to go to school, or speak their minds, or do anything other than make babies and do housework. I wake up every day knowing how privileged I am by being able to go to school and learn about things I am passionate about.
Next, Christian discussed how citizenship to her means participating in your community and how important it is to be passionate about something. She told us about a paper she had just written about community involvement and about how one of the three women she highlighted in her paper helped homeless people not by just showing up with food, but finding out what they truly needed (clothes, money, a place to sleep, etc) and then helping them get or find that. This can relate to our class in how we discussed how to try solve wicked problems or even just emergency situations by listening to what is needed instead of just doing what we believe is best. Jacob and Connor both gave a more general, world-wide definition of citizenship by discussing how people need to use their strengths in order to contribute effectively in the community in which they live. Before we had to go we briefly discussed the pressing issue of gun violence which I was happy to be able to be a major part of because of the social issue project am working on in class. Lastly, we all talked about how we think technology is positively affecting the world today. In a world where so much negative attention is put on technology, it can be easy to forget the amazing benefits that comes with it. We all agreed that technology enables us to have a global economy, makes it easy to learn about other cultures that makes us more accepting individuals and easily accessible education on any topic you can think of.
Speaking of technology, by the time we finished eating I glanced at my phone for the first time and saw that I had several text messages from my cheer coach wondering where I was. When I first arrived I had been constantly checking my watch to see when I needed to leave but later was surprised that I had gotten so enthralled in the conversation and the incredible experience that I had totally forgotten about my phone and cheer practice. I guess that’s what this project was truly about. Meeting new people and learning new things, not only about other people and the world around you, but learning where you stand on issues compared to others. Through this I was able to hear about people’s personal experiences that shaped them into the people they are today, such as growing up in rural Kentucky, or going on several tours to Afghanistan. Hearing these stories made me think back on my own life and made me ask myself why I believe what I do. Why am I passionate about certain things?
In conclusion, I sincerely enjoyed this project far more and learned more about others and myself than I ever thought possible in a short three hours. Thank you so much to the amazing Ms. Ryan for opening up her beautiful home, Chuck for keeping us laughing all night and my fellow Honors 251 students for asking thought provoking questions and making some super good pizza.