We were zipping through Baghdad, when four Iraqi schoolgirls in neatly pressed school uniforms came into view.
“Colonel, I gotta take a picture of those adorable little girls,” I told the officer who had organized this press trip just for me.
“Okay,” he said. “Make it quick.”
And then we did something that I was never able to do again. We stopped in the middle of a Baghdad street, got out of our vehicles, and with only three soldiers for security, we looked around.
It was late April 2004, and you could still go out into the Red Zone with only two vehicles. By May, we were required to have multiple vehicle protection with soldiers, or a personal security detail (PSD) in order to cover stories outside of the heavily fortified Green Zone.
On that day, I was covering an Iraqi non-governmental organization (NGO) called The Association of Free Prisoners. According to the association, they had collected more than a hundred thousand execution orders issued by Saddam Hussein from around Iraq. The group was entering the names of the executed into databases. Their goal was to give the families a way of discovering what had happened to their loved ones.
It had taken me about a month to track down information on this group, and find a point of contact to take me out to the site. What I got was an Army colonel who believed that the world needed to know what Saddam had done to these people. Since I was an Army broadcast journalist, he was happy to help.
The building was next to the Tigris and took about twenty minutes to get there. I was sitting in the front seat staring out of the windows when I saw the little girls. They seemed to be on their way to school. They were smiling and happy. How could they be happy, when there was so much to be sad about?
They had a future and they were on their way to school to prepare for it.
Two years ago, I wandered into Professor Robert Davidson’s office in Siskiyou Hall. I had my service dog in tow, and a bewildered look on my face. I knew that I wanted to do something with my life but I wasn’t certain what that might be. I knew that I had something to say, but I didn’t know how to get those words down on paper. No matter what, I was certain that going to school would get me where I wanted to go.
Now, I’m a graduate student in the English Department studying to be a teacher.
Spring semester at Chico State University began last Tuesday. I got to school early and planted myself at a table at the Student Union. The students looked happy. Excited, in fact. I felt extremely fortunate to be in school. I was one of them and their energy was irresistible. We’re working on our futures. As long as we have students who trust in the future enough to go to school, our country, any country will be all right.
Students are amazing.