When Kim Cline, president of Long Island University, invited me to the gala launch of the new Roosevelt School and the Society of Presidential Descendants honoring my favorite Pulitzer Prize-winning author, I delightedly accepted.
The next day, I enjoyed brunch with my beloved grandson Blake, 16, who had just been elected president of his high school’s junior class. He shared with me his essay, “I Believe in Significance.” It took my breath away with its structure and powerful message.
Ironically, the iconic Doris Kearns Goodwin shared a similar perspective of history.
She spoke to the intimate gathering of the descendants of multiple presidents and supporters of President Cline’s visionary new school in the stunning former residence of EF Hutton on the school’s expansive, sumptuous campus in Brookville off Northern Boulevard.
I’d been to the campus before but hadn’t ventured deep into its 307 acres past the equestrian buildings and its new veterinary school.
The former Hutton Residence has luxurious, paneled rooms and now features a room that’s reminiscent of the Oval Office with portraits of many past U.S. presidents throughout its hallways. It’s now a perfect event and symposium space with gorgeous outdoor gardens.
Beginning the evening was a panel of six direct descendants of past presidents. At the dinner, I had the honor of sitting next to Teddy Roosevelt’s relative Tweed Roosevelt. We chatted about Sagamore Hill and the need to have a “Friends of Committee” formed. It was Teddy’s summer getaway in nearby Oyster Bay, now open to the public.
He and President Cline tirelessly — in only two years — created the idea, found and renovated the historic building, and there we all were!
I was impressed to sit with Tweed, but also sitting at the table to my left was Doris Kearns Goodwin. Meeting the great scribe who brought to life the giants who inhabited the White House, was an extraordinary experience.
Her books are page-turners with fascinating anecdotes about these men. But I was most interested in her recent book, gleaned from her previous biographies, called “Leadership.” She autographed a copy of the book for me, and I autographed it and gave it to Blake, who I believe is a born leader.
After receiving her award, Doris took to the podium and spoke eloquently about her career, which began as an intern in the office of Lyndon B. Johnson, as well as meeting her talented speech writing husband Richard N. Goodwin and her path to unlocking the brilliance of past presidents for the general public’s enjoyment.
What struck me was her sharing how living in a challenging time in history seems like a devastating moment, like today. But those who lived in the depression couldn’t envision ever getting out of it. Looking back years later, the perspective is totally different.
Ironically, Blake wrote about that exact concept in his essay. I learned from it, and maybe you will too! Enjoy!
I Believe in Significance
By Blake Sohmer
I believe in significance.
After playing soccer competitively for my entire career, I was routinely criticized for never having scored a goal. Although not outwardly visible, my failure to score tore me apart on the inside. For some of my teammates, scoring was a weekly occurrence, and they made it look easy. However for me, the laughter tormented me like an impending early morning alarm torments sleep-deprived high schoolers, blaring incessantly.
It was a typical game. I took my defensive position. Spotting an opening, I began to make a run. The hot sun beat down, as sweat slowly began dripping across my forehead. Adrenaline coursed through my body, and I felt the rush. The crisply cut grass felt smooth like butter under my vibrant yellow-colored cleats. My teammate passed me the ball. One touch… two touch…. passing through each and every defender. I took one last dribble, and a shot glided off my foot towards the net. I felt as if I was watching this in slow motion. Then, the goalie dove and missed the ball! That kid who never scored, just did! I ran through the field, arms in airplane formation, with a huge smile on my face. I felt like I was on top of the world.
From that moment on, I had a newfound confidence. There was no longer an overarching difference between the rest of my teammates and me. While this achievement was a monumental milestone to a 10-year-old, upon reflection, I realize the relative insignificance of this goal. Kicking a bouncing black and white sphere into a mesh net is so insignificant in the grand scheme of things, yet, it meant so much to me six years ago. Today, grades and extracurriculars have taken over my world, as college is approaching. Nothing seems more important than getting that 5 on an AP test, making the tennis team, and getting accepted into an elite summer program. Perhaps, when I look back six years from now, reflecting on the immense weight of bubbling in circles on a computer generated scantron, I will realize the insignificance of this too. After graduating college, and pursuing a career, will the difference between a 4 or 5, or treasurer instead of vice president in a club, really mean that much? Will the rigorous and tedious act of job searching also seem insignificant six years after that?
While these moments seem dire as they are occurring, when one steps out of the situation, they can appear mostly insignificant. Yet, there is a reason why they feel so pressing and meaningful in the moment. It is due to an underlying thread that ties these moments together, a significance that underlies all of the insignificance. For me, this thread is the connection to my community. Over the years, my “community” has changed. When I was younger, my commitment was to my soccer team. The comradery drove me to always do my best and to not let others down. It wasn’t the goal that meant the world, it was the pat on the back, where I felt connected and appreciated. This early foundation has formed the bedrock of my future connections to other communities. Whether it’s academics, sports, or the workplace, the relationships developed among my peers will sustain me and empower me to keep putting my best foot forward. What has lasted has been the connections and relationships developed across these community borders.
I believe in finding the significance within the insignificance. Everyone has moments that seem life changing at the time, but the real meaning lies in why those moments are significant. Only when one reflects and identifies the importance of these moments can they truly understand themselves as a person.
You must look beyond your accomplishments, and appreciate the people that surround you during those moments. What is your significant thread? What is your significance in the insignificance?