An equal opportunity holiday?

By Domenic Poli. He can be reached at [email protected]

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Collegian Illustration

Yesterday finished up one of those calendar occurrences that are oh-so-cherished by members of any student body: a three-day weekend. The reason for this most recent elongated treat was so the country could observe one of its lesser-recognized holidays. I am talking, of course, about Presidents’ Day – or should I say Washington’s Birthday?

You see, who actually knew that Presidents’ Day wasn’t all-inclusive? In fact, the nation uses the annual holiday as a way of honoring, specifically, two of America’s greatest presidents – George Washington and Abraham Lincoln, whose birthdays are Feb. 22 and 12, respectively. But the odyssey of this mysterious day continues.

I soon found out that Presidents’ Day was, in fact, originally intended to paid tribute to Mr. Washington only. When I learned that what my calendar lists as ‘Presidents’ Day’ (a day when most remember the faces of the one and five dollar bills) was really instituted in memory of Washington alone, I was a little disappointed.

I mean no offense to Mr. Washington, of course – he is the Father of our Country and, arguably, the greatest American in history.

He fought gallantly for his homeland in the conflict that would grow into the French and Indian war, in 1775 he was elected Commander-In-Chief of the Continental Army, leading a ragamuffin bunch of militiamen through six years of arduous warfare in the American Revolution and when the Constitution (which he was largely responsible for fashioning) was ratified in 1776, the Electoral College chose him as the first President of the United States. The future of American democracy depended on how Washington would conduct himself while in office.

As we all know, he did a superb job as President, and every bit of democracy that thousands of immigrants flock to this country every year for is due, in very large part, to Mr. Washington.

So, I wasn’t so much upset that he didn’t have a holiday all to himself as I was surprised – especially when I learned that Mr. Lincoln was initially left out of the equation.

Lincoln is perhaps the greatest Commander-In-Chief in American history. Look at the facts. He kept the nation together when the Civil War threatened to crumble it and he signed the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863, which declared that all slaves (even in the Confederacy) were forever free. As you all can see (and probably knew already) Lincoln was not actually chopped liver. He was instead one of the greatest presidents in history.

But there have been 41 other men who have proudly served this nation (some well, some others not so well) as its elected leader – don’t they all, like Lincoln, deserve a little recognition?

President Franklin D. Roosevelt led the country out of the Great Depression, through much of World War II, formed Social Security and established a huge worker relief program for the unemployed – all this while being crippled with polio, mind you.

How about President John F. Kennedy?

JFK guided the country through much of the Cold War and the Cuban Missile Crisis. He helped fund the advancement of science, established the Peace Corps in 1960 and, as the man who proposed the Civil Rights Act of 1964, was probably the greatest pioneers for civil rights in history.

And that’s just the start of the list.

Harry S. Truman won World War II when he decided to drop the A-bombs on Nagasaki and Hiroshima in 1945, and Woodrow Wilson helped the Allies win the previous World War by declaring war on Germany in 1917. He then tried to end all future wars with the League of Nations and his Fourteen Points.

I’m certainly not trying to take anything away from Mr. Washington – or Mr. Lincoln. The argument I’m making here is that we’ve had 42 former presidents, and – though some of them may have done a lousy job (see Millard Fillmore) – each one of them deserves to be honored for the work they did for their country.

The third Monday in February should stand with a different name in order to honor the two tremendous presidents whose birthdays envelope the date. To complement this exclusive day, there should be another during the calendar year to pay tribute to all of our neglected former presidents. Even if they didn’t do a bang-up job, they all gave up their otherwise simple lives just to be subjected to the constant scrutiny, pressure and attention that come from handling the reigns of the one of the greatest nations in the world – and they all did it because they loved their country.