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Thank You Harper Lee

            There comes a time in every student’s life where the teacher will announce the next book to be read in class. Each book on the syllabus crossed off like a to-do list. The students’ enthusiasm for the school year has withered with the cold as the warmth of Spring reminds them of the promise of Summer. The teachers are hanging on by mere threads as they attempt to open the minds of their students to new concepts and ideas that they hope will become meaningful at some point in their lives. Few books have the power to break this dull spell of a routine known as English class.  But only one is able to set student and and teacher equal to one another as they discuss and learn from this story together; this novel is To Kill a Mockingbird.

            This classic American novel has captivated readers for over five decades. Each generation is able to connect to this Depression era story set in sleepy Maycomb County, Alabama. Author Harper Lee weaves a tale of growing up while exploring the troubling and painful theme of race relations in America.  However, I would like to argue that this story is not just simply a coming of age story about racism, it’s a call to action. With Lee’s death fresh in our minds, the question of how do we honor and say thank you to a woman who has left us such an integral part of American literature? The answer is simple, it’s in the book. We must work towards furthering our understanding of others; breaking down our prejudices or as Atticus Finch put it: “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view . . . until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.”

           To think that Lee’s novel, written over 50 years ago, is as as relevant today, should be looked at as not only a deserved accomplishment but also a reflection of where we are as a nation. How is it that we are experiencing the same problems we were having 50 years ago in terms of our treatment of African Americans in the judicial system? Have we really progressed so little that our attitudes and preconceived notions of a whole people have not changed? Why is it we can relate to Scout, a young girl growing up in the South watching racial discrimination unfold in front of her but we quicken our step when we see a young African American boy in a hoodie? Our innocence has been lost somewhere along the way and Scout is able to restore that sense of disbelief in the cruelty of human beings. That’s the magic that Lee created with her novel. She shows to us the folly of our prejudices and in the character Atticus Finch, she challenges us to be better.

            America isn’t the best but we like to think it is. That’s why To Kill a Mockingbird is so great and profound. The characters and ideals are what we strive for, what we believe America can be. Who doesn’t want to be Atticus Finch fighting for justice, a mere mortal super hero with no powers other than his integrity and words? The most important question that this poses is; why can’t that be us? What is stopping us from being out best selves, from being Atticus Finch in that court room? It’s okay if we aren’t perfect all the time, no one is. But putting forth that effort to be better every day is worth something. Slowly but surely our prejudices will fall and the best version of ourselves and nation can emerge.

            The way in which we may immortalize Lee is not by remembering her image or legacy but by living to our full potential. To take Atticus’s integrity, Dill’s youthful innocence, Boo’s pure goodness, and Scout’s ability to recognize injustice and combine it to be better. This is how Lee will live forever and how To Kill a Mockingbird’s lessons will never be forgotten.

            I don’t often think about the future in terms of planning and visualizing who I’ll end up with or if I choose to have a family. However, I do know that if I ever have a daughter her middle name will be Scout. Scout to me, embodies the characteristics I wish my daughter to have. To not be afraid to ask questions. To challenge the status quo. To be able to empathize with others. I want her innocence of the corrupt world to remain with her so that she has the ability to understand and see the suffering and injustice of others, and with that to feel moved to act. I want it to remind her that no fight is too big or too great. This and striving to be better will be how I remember the legacy that Harper Lee has given us.

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