That was a lot of fun, our time together building The Bridge of American Dreams. Word of what we were creating spread to college campuses and drew alumni back home to help us with promotion. While my high school students were in the park putting the bridge together, these grads were gathered in a coffee shop making plans to display it on their respective campuses. None of the college students had ever worked on the bridge. They were my students before the bridge was conceived. Their junior friends were talking is all.
You might remember, this was 2015.
It is to those college students I owe the first apology. They saw in the bridge's symbolic richness a platform from which they might sound their voices. Expecting a grand unveiling, they got, instead, a series of delays as I hemmed and hawed, keeping them at bay.
What looked like inefficacy on my part was actually a strategy to keep my job.
I had been warned by the top dog himself to keep politics out of the project. None of you was aware that the superintendent had put his boot across my throat as a means of doing just that. Politicizing our Bridge of American Dreams would constitute insubordination from me. That is grounds for firing.
My need for self-preservation trumped collegiate idealism. Politics found its way onto the bridge, anyway. It came from the political right. This was my first encounter with the Trumpian mindset. What was intended as a universal symbol of American opportunity was shrunk into a representation of the U.S.southern border.
The superintendent told me repeatedly the bridge had no merit, that it was only an activity without educational value. Apparently, he saw it as a threat to his political idealogy. He must have looked at the bridge solely through his political eye and saw nothing more than an open invitation to cross that border, particularly with the majority of our district's population being of Hispanic heritage.
Meanwhile, he took the stance the bridge belonged to the district because it was constructed on school grounds with school tools. I explained to him that I had purchased all of the materials with my own money and that many of the students wanted to keep their panels. Neither argument swayed him, the bridge belonged to the school district.
Eventually, we did display our bridge on a college campus, at our local community college where many of you may still be taking classes. We had an opening night presentation on February 3, 2016. Some of you were there with your families. The college threw us a party. I owe this college an apology, too. They were set and willing to display the bridge for six weeks. The college president and his staff were as unaware of my predicament as were the students. They must have been surprised to see me dismantling our bridge after only a week's display. I do not know if they were aware that the superintendent of the high schools from which the college drew most of its students wanted the bridge displayed for only two weeks and then never again..
After having this man with all the power approach me several times throughout the night of our celebration to disparage our accomplishment and me, personally, I decided to cut the baby in half, so to speak.
Fearing he would be back the following week intent on confiscating our work, one week after the celebration, I returned to the college with a truckload of sloppy panels that even the student-creators had abandoned and cut the bridge in half. I hauled away one of the support columns and half the cables, along with most of the panels. All he wanted was a bridge, so I left him a bridge.
A Letter for My Students
Click on any of the images to get on the bridge