Don’t take it for granted

The Constitution is the document that states the rights of all U.S. citizens. It is the foundation outlining many of the country’s guiding principles. Unfortunately, many Americans take it for granted. The School of Mass Communications recognizes this and will host USF’s inaugural Constitution Day on Monday.

Constitution Day is a federal holiday that recognizes the ratification of the U.S. Constitution by the Constitutional Convention in 1787. The holiday officially occurs on Sunday but will be observed on Monday.

Lorie Kittendorf, coordinator of Academic Support Services, helped organize the day along with Director of the School of Mass Communications Edward Friedlander and other faculty members.

“We kind of got together and said, ‘Yes, this is something we definitely want to do and try to make this something that the School of Mass Communications is a force behind,’ because it’s so important to us,” Kittendorf said.

The law establishing Constitution Day was created in 2004, and it requires all educational institutions receiving federal funds to hold Constitution-related activities each year around Sept. 17.

According to Kittendorf, a small event was held for Constitution Day last year, but this year involved much more planning.

“We’re hoping to at least introduce the concept to the students and hopefully get them excited about the idea of learning more about the Constitution,” she said.

Kittendorf feels that along with recognizing the actual document, Constitution Day was most likely triggered as a result of the Sept. 11 attacks.

“I think 9/11 was a trigger that made them go, ‘Hey, we need to do something about this and make sure that the American public really does understand what the Constitution is and the freedoms that it allows,'” Kittendorf said.

There will be various activities held throughout the day. One event will be a poster competition that asks students to illustrate how the Constitution directly impacts their major. It has been promoted throughout the week, and on Monday, participants have to deliver their entries to the CIS lobby by 9 a.m. The winners will be announced by the time of the closing event at 4:15.

Another event will quiz students on their knowledge of the Constitution. Remember Schoolhouse Rock? The best rendition of the “Preamble to the Constitution” song will win a karaoke contest.

There will also be a bake sale held by the Public Relations Students Society of America.

“I think they should attend to show their interest in the country, to show that they don’t take these freedoms for granted,” Kittendorf said. “To show that the foundation of this country in which they live in is something that is important to know and understand.”

Friedlander recognizes the importance of the Constitution and its link to the mass communications field.

“The First Amendment is part of our stated mission of the School of Mass Communications, and we teach and talk about freedom of the press and freedom of speech a lot here,” he said. “So it’s always at the forefront of our thinking anyway.”

Both Kittendorf and Friedlander feel many Americans do not know enough about the historic document.

“I find it interesting, though, that if everyone had to take the citizenship test, I would be surprised at how many Americans would fail it, because so many of us don’t know a lot about our own country,” Kittendorf said. “And so I think this is one way to help understand what the Constitution is and something about the people who signed it and what was going on at the time.”

In addition to the various contests and events planned for the day, guest speakers are slated.

The keynote speaker will be retired Army Col. Michael Pheneger, chair of the greater Tampa chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union.

There will also be a webcast of former Secretary of State Gen. Colin Powell, who will lead the nationwide annual recitation of the Preamble of the Constitution.

In the afternoon, there will be a video showing and discussion titled “Immigration & the Constitution,” led by Jose Hernandez, director of Human Resources in the Office of Diversity and Equal Opportunity. The program will run from 2:30 to 4 in Cooper Hall 115.

To Friedlander, there is more to the holiday than meets the eye.

“I think it reminds us of who we are, and I think that’s particularly important as American servicemen and -women are dying in various parts of the world,” he said. “And we are in the process of taking a continuing look at our country in terms of how we wage the conflict against terrorism.”

Kittendorf hopes students who attend the event leave with an understanding of the Constitution and a sense of patriotism.

“I think that a lot of us tend to take America and the freedoms that we have and all that for granted, and it’s not until those are jeopardized that we ever start to think about … what our citizenship means and what it means to be an American,” she said.