Upon entering the Memorial Chapel on Monday, Jan. 20 to attend Margaret Rozga’s speech honoring Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, I was greeted by a smiling group of Girl Scouts, each eagerly handing me a program. I was confused, believing this was just an event for Lawrence students, but I took a program and made my way to a seat. As I looked around me, I realized that the audience was filled with people of all ages from all over Appleton. The Lawrence Bubble had been popped, and to see more than just college students sitting in the chapel was refreshing.
Freshman Kevin Buckhalton agreed: “I was surprised there were so many people here. I honestly didn’t think it would be this big of a thing in Appleton. Like, I heard before I came here, it would be just all black people, but it’s so diverse. And everyone here is so nice! Everyone really cares about the cause.” It can be easy to forget about the rich community of Appleton when we have such a rich community here at Lawrence.
The volunteer opportunities offered around Appleton earlier in the day allowed students to give back to the community that our university calls home and to remember that the world is wider than just a college campus. “I really enjoy the events that include the surrounding Appleton community as much as the Lawrence community, so it’s always nice to go to these events that are so well attended,” said senior Corrine Kocher.
As the event got underway, the elected officials in the audience were introduced, including Timothy Hanna, the mayor of Appleton. I had to quietly remind myself that Mark Burstein does not run Appleton, just the Lawrence campus. Four elementary school children were brought on stage to read their award-winning essays on Martin Luther King, Jr. Their beautifully crafted words and the maturity behind their messages brought most audience members to tears and received a standing ovation. The diversity and richness of Appleton again surprised me. Their voices are so often lost on our bustling campus; to be at an event where they were showcased was illuminating.
Then came the keynote speaker Margaret Rozga. Her speech began with an exulted exclamation of, “He lives!” She then demonstrated that he truly does. Her work in the protests for fair housing in Milwaukee, Wis. shows that there is still much to be done, but that the beliefs and methods of Martin Luther King, Jr. live on in all those who fight for equality. “I’m glad they included contemporary events,” said senior Olav Björnerud. “Oftentimes the controversial beliefs of Martin Luther King get glossed over and they kind of take the teeth out of his message.” But Rozga managed to capture the entirety of Martin Luther King, Jr. and the importance of the day.
Her speech concluded and we all joined in a roaring applause, united in our appreciation of her words. Afterward, a man with a guitar and a woman walked onstage and began singing “We Shall Overcome.” Everyone linked arms and began singing along. Seriously. Although the end of the program was straight out of an ABC Family movie, it was still powerful and the message rang true.