Nov. 20, 2013
Grainy, black and white television images of a man stepping onto the surface of the moon come to mind. I’ve always thought of this as one of my first memories, but I can’t really be sure. The timing of the first moonwalk makes it possible, but I’ll never really know for sure. But, since it’s a pretty important moment in history, I’ll claim it as my first memory, rather than dribbling cereal down my chin or something.
The mind is an incredible thing with the capacity to store endless memories of our lives. I have plenty of important ones—the smell of my grandma’s kitchen on Thanksgiving morning, the warm embrace of my mom, walking down the aisle on my wedding day and holding my daughter for the first time.
The mind also has a wicked sense of humor as I can remember a bunch of ridiculous things too—my locker combination from 7th grade, the exact outfit I wore when my high school hosted solo and ensemble, the smell of Body on Tap shampoo and all of the lyrics to 867-5309 Jenny.
Then there are shared memories—those moments in time where something so significant happens that almost everyone can remember exactly what they were doing.
I was in my high school counselor’s office working on an extra-curricular project with my friends when President Reagan was shot. I was in a small flat in South Dakota when the Challenger exploded. I was working at my desk in a congressman’s office when I heard about the Oklahoma bombing. I was holding NHL superstar Brett Hull’s credit card at a charity dinner when it was announced the U.S. had entered Afghanistan, (and then found myself holding his hand and praying with him shortly after). I was working at MSU, wearing a red shirt, when I watched the horrific live images of 9/11 happening.
The assassination of President John F. Kennedy is one of the most prevalent shared memories. I wasn’t born yet, but anyone who was around most certainly can recall where they were when they heard the news. My mother-in-law remembers leaving a cart full of groceries at the store and heading home when it was announced over the store system.
This Friday, Nov. 22, will mark 50 years since that tragedy in Dallas.
Douglas B. Roberts, the director of MSU's Institute for Public Policy and Social Research, will never forget that day. His recollection is very personal, since his father, Secret Service Agent Emory P. Roberts was the shift leader on presidential detail and in the car directly behind President and Mrs. Kennedy. Read his story in this week’s FACULTY VOICE: A Son’s Remembrance.
History also plays an important part in how we look at everything—from science to human behavior, from politics to medicine. There isn’t any area of study that doesn’t benefit from historical perspective and examination.
Lyman Briggs senior, Anzar Abbas, is majoring in neuroscience with a minor in theater but understands the importance of history for all disciplines. His academic interests in the history of science and medicine led him to a research project that took him to the University of Oxford this past summer to study Arabic medical contributions during medieval times. Read his STUDENT VOICE: The History of Science, to learn more about his work.
As most people know, MSU is filled with history. The university has seen many milestones and discoveries since 1855 and educated hundreds of thousands of students.
One of the coolest combinations of history, science and future that MSU has is the Beal seed viability study. Almost 134 years ago, William James Beal buried 20 glass bottles with 50 seeds from 21 plant species, with instructions to dig them up every so often to study them, thus beginning the world’s oldest continuing plant biology experiment. I’m not a scientist, botanist or historian and this continues to intrigue me every time I read about it. Read more about this in the MSUTODAY FEATURE: Deeply Rooted.
History is important. Shared memories bring us together and historical discoveries help us chart the future. We hope that mistakes of past generations can be avoided by the next. So no matter if your field is quantum physics or jazz studies or chemistry or social work—history matters. Remember that.
Photo of MSU Union by Michael Samsky with special thanks to MSU Archives and Historical Collections.