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The Pioneer Spirit

“Pioneers! O Pioneers! Come my tan faced children…..” as Walt Whitman goes into his poem, you are brought into a world of the Pioneer Spirit. He was writing about a time when the country was expanding at leaps and bounds, a time when the promise of gold, land and a new beginning were just beyond the horizon. But, did you have the gumption to go forth?

I received an e-mail from my old college professor, Dr. Jack Sullivan. He invited me to a dinner he hosts.  We haven’t seen each other in quite some time and he wanted to make sure I would attend the American Studies major alumni dinner. I made sure to block out the date on my calendar, because he is someone I admire, respect and always look forward to spending time with. When I got to the dinner, I saw a few familiar faces, but mostly people I never met before. Since we all shared a common background, I knew we would have an enjoyable time. Towards the end of the event, a current AMS student came to meet up with Dr. Sullivan. She was writing her senior thesis and he wanted to give her draft back to her with his notes. I got caught up in their discussion, and remembered why I became an American Studies major.

I always enjoyed history, but American Studies was more diverse thinking. We studied literature, art, music and history. It is not for people who are unwilling to take a few chances. More than anything else, studying American culture past and present gives one the critical thinking skills that are invaluable in an ever-changing world. I was discussing with the current student that with my American Studies major, I was able to apply for a variety of different jobs right out of college, and I ended up in the publishing world. Since broader analytical and writing skills were necessary for American Studies, publishing seemed like a great fit. Jack stopped me and said, “you know Nick, you were one of my first American Studies majors. Usually students were American Studies majors along with another major, like education, or they were American Studies minors, with a major in something else. You were a pioneer.”

This had me thinking the whole ride home. I’m a pioneer, me, Nick DeVito, a pioneer. Of course it makes sense, why wouldn’t I be a pioneer? By the time I got home to talk to Katie, my head barely fit in the door, because of all the pioneer blood in me.  I told her the story, of course making sure to stress the fact that Jack, my advisor, my mentor, someone I respected, someone who is friends with Cornel West, called me, ME, a pioneer. I was ready to conquer anything at that moment.

After thinking about it a few days, and of course reminding Katie (over and over) that she married a pioneer, I came to a few conclusions. Yes, I am a pioneer.  I like to know about the past, so that I can learn from it for the future.  I like to be on the forefront of things, including; news, books, technology, new opinions/outlooks/thoughts.  I like to know what’s in the pipeline, what’s next, what’s new. I also like to look at things that don’t work, and change them, make processes easier, cut through the red tape. I actually never thought of myself as a pioneer, and I’m sure the folks who went westward at first didn’t either; they just wanted to know what was out there, what’s next, what’s new.  Get out there and find out.

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