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I Lift My Lamp

When my grandfather arrived in America, he worked as a day laborer while taking trade school courses to become an electrician. In one of the houses he was rewiring, he found a copy of Shakespeare works, which he salvaged and gave to his daughter. I don't know if he ever read it.

My mother took this copy of Shakespeare to Cornell Teacher's College, where she earned her teaching degree. There are sections underlined in Henry the fourth part 1, which she read as part of her coursework.

When I went to London to study for a year at King's College, she gave it to me. It is crammed with the air mail letters she wrote me during that year. I remember sitting down with her and sonnet #2, unpacking it for her one Mother's Day.

I have many editions of Shakespeare’s works, but keep that one near my desk.

My grandfather and namesake, Michael Louis Giocondo, arrived in this country at the beginning of the 20th Century. He went to a technical school to become an electrician, wired houses so that his daughter, Gloria, could attend teacher's college. She then taught in schools and raised a family, ensuring each of us could go to university and be whatever we chose to be in life

This week, I re-read Emma Lazarus' sonnet, 'The New Colossus,' which is inscribed at the base of the Statue of Liberty. Take 90 seconds and re-read it yourself:

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame, With conquering limbs astride from land to land; Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame. “Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!” - 1883

This is the power of Liberty That Enlightens the World; it is not the boast of exceptionalism, or domination, or brash display. That is the 'Old Colossus,' sunk into the sea of the Ancient World and forgotten. The Liberty that Enlightens the World is the Liberty to dare, to be bold, to risk...and to change. The light of hope for all who dare to change, which stands in New York harbor, is there not as a bastion to be fortified, but as a doorway to be lit; the illumination is not to awe, but to welcome. This poem is connected deeply with the statue which inspired it; a creation of a new vision of strength, a strength found in pluralism, and growth.

A thank you to all who have dared, and all who dare, to change their lives and breathe free. I want their courage as I go forward in this world. And I want a country which is as brave as their sacrifice, and the sacrifice all make to create themselves anew


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