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On the road: Jack Kerouac style

By Denebola
Published: September 2007

By Gabe Schneider

Following the footsteps of beatnik Jack Kerouac, a group of forty high school students from all over the country, including myself, set off from Atlanta to face a journey unlike any other. We did not know what to expect, or what we were in for; we did not even know each other.

The idea of the trip, called Etgar 36, inspired by the beatnik generation is to step into “terra incognita,” or unknown land. To step out of your comfort zone and listen to opinions not necessarily in accordance with your own becomes a true learning experience. Yet, the trip also stresses the importance of simply traveling to new places and seeing things beyond the realm of your imagination.

We started by discussing the civil rights struggle on our trip to the South. We spoke to a historian under the tree where Leo Frank was hung and listened to Reverend Williams, a priest at the Ebenezer Baptist Church, who had known Dr. Martin Luther King. We stood where Rosa Parks led her bus boycott as well as visited the Southern Poverty Law Center, an organization that tries to convict perpetrators of hate crimes. Also, as we headed to Memphis, we discussed the importance of rock and roll in the integration of races.

In Texas, I experienced some very strong inner turmoil when we spoke to Ryan Kirchoff, a speaker for Operation Rescue, a pro-life organization. He conveyed the Catholic view that the fetus’ life is as important as the mother’s and that life starts before the baby’s first breath. I later realized that the friendly discussion that took place between us was much more interesting and moving than our meeting in Washington D.C. with NARAL, a group advocating a pro-choice America, later in the trip.

The bus stopped in Denver a few days later where we spoke to Dan Mauser, the father of, Daniel, a victim of the Columbine High School tragedy. Mauser was influenced by his personal experience. He spoke to us about gun control and the dangers and repercussions of the Second Amendment. His stor y touched us especially the next day in Boulder when we got the rare privilege of going inside Columbine High School and seeing first hand the similarities between that school and our own. This experience proved to us that guns and politics in general are not distant from us, but that they do concern us all.

The following days were also packed with meetings, learning experiences, and great adventures. We toured the Haight and Ashbury area of San Francisco, went to the Rock and Roll hall of fame in Cleveland, visited Ellis Island in New York, walked the Freedom Trail in Boston, and unexpectedly spoke to Congressman John Murtha about the war in Iraq in Washington D.C.

I learned many things on my trip around the country. I learned about the great diversity of our country. The most important thing I learned is to speak my mind for the greater good of others. As Jack Kerouac once said, “I hope it is true that a man can die and yet not only live in others but give the m life, and not only life, but that great consciousness of life.” The beatnik generation relays ideas of helping out each other as well as the importance of living in the moment, all of which I learned on this trip.

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