Monday, March 4, 2013

President’s Week - Provost Prose

Up to age 18, I had never been on a plane and the furthest I traveled was to a camp in Pennsylvania.  My kids, who are not yet 18, have already flown hundreds of thousands of miles by plane and have flown across both the Atlantic and the Pacific. But the differences are even more profound.  Staying in touch with friends when I traveled, either with my parents or to camp, consisted of a once a week phone call and more frequent postcards.  I always looked carefully to find the right postcards, those that would give a friend or family member at least some sense of what I was seeing or experiencing.  Now my younger daughter stays in touch with her friends by facetimeing them and if she borrows my wife’s iPAD, she is even facetimeing multiple friends at the same time.  And since they are watching and talking with each other in real time, they are certainly remaining closely in touch.  Postcards have gone the way of phones with cords or payphones; replaced by instantly texting or emailing pictures or videos that show what you are seeing, once again in real time.  I’ve only used facetime once—for a work related meeting but I regularly text and email pictures.  I’m also the first to acknowledge that these changes are real improvements that we should all appreciate.

Finding a vacation that all of us want to go on for President’s week has become more of a challenge as my daughters have grown older.  This year we decided to travel to Las Vegas and the Grand Canyon, with a side trip to Hoover Dam.  My wife has seen all of the above previously; for my kids and me, all three were new experiences.  Hoover Dam impressed everyone. The scale of the dam and the difference it has made greatly fascinated us all.  And for my kids, it was important to hear, as part of the tour, that the dam was built without computers and without GPS etc.  It gave them a real sense—on a massive scale—that human ingenuity has transcended time and technology.  I can’t wait to take them to the Great Wall to reinforce that lesson.  Hearing what the workers on the dam went through as the dam was being built also gave them an important insight on why government regulations, such as the OSHA regulations, make such a difference in the health and wellbeing of workers.

The Grand Canyon was spectacular.  We explored various lookouts on the south rim, seeing the differences from different heights and locations, as well as the differences that time of day and weather related (cloud and sun) conditions made in what we were looking at.  No photograph can do justice to the Grand Canyon.  For me it was a dazzling look at the majesty and power of nature.  But here there was a difference in how some of us saw the Canyon.  For my younger daughter, she would clearly have welcomed a Disney effect, something that would have made the Canyon come more alive, even if it was all make believe.  For example, if Simba could have given a guided tour with the Canyon creatures singing a few songs, I think she would have appreciated the added action.  Think of it as an amusement park ride, instead of “It’s a small world,” we would have “It’s a large canyon.” No, I’m not advocating anything like this happening, though I think there could be a livelier film at the welcome center.  I also think that when we go back to the Canyon and take the mule ride down to the bottom, all of us will be fascinated by the experience.  And I am certain that as my kids grow older, they will more fully understand that an understated wonder of nature can still be dazzling.

Speaking of dazzling, we started and ended our trip in Las Vegas.  And stay tuned to next week’s blog to read about that part of our experience.


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