Guest column: Federal 450th Commission will enhance celebration
In just eight days, at 10 a.m. on Monday, July 18, the federal St. Augustine 450th Commemoration Commission will hold its first meeting in Flagler Auditorium. Here's why you should not only care, but why you should plan to attend:
1. The commission is composed of truly extraordinary people, including former U.S. Sen. Bob Graham, Former UN Ambassador Andrew Young, Miami-Dade College President Eduardo Padron, art collector extraordinaire Jay Kislak, noted historic preservationist Katherine Dickensen, former Florida Secretary of State Bruce Smathers, and two of our state's best historians, Dr. Michael Gannon and Dr. Michael Francis. That all of these people have committed their time and talent to help St. Augustine succeed is reason enough for us to show our appreciation.
2. The commission will help focus international, national and statewide attention to St. Augustine and further our desire that St. Augustine's rightful place in the beginning of America's history finally be fully and widely understood and truthfully told. ¿
3. The knowledge, expertise and network of the commissioners will enhance the quality of every activity or event planned for the 450th and will help bring resources to their success even in these difficult times.
4. The commissioners, especially those well-connected to fast-growing Hispanic, Latino and African-American tourism, will expand the tourist base for St. Augustine. They will enhance our connection to Spain, England, France, Haiti and many other countries in our hemisphere and throughout the world and encourage their citizens to understand the important role of St. Augustine in their own culture and history. This will positively impact the local economy well into the future.
5. The commissioners will enhance the success of our other commemorations as well, including the 200th anniversary of the Spanish Constitution that included many freedoms influenced by America's then-new constitution; the 500th anniversary of the discovery of Florida by Ponce de Leon; and the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act.
In just the past several weeks, many of us have seen an outpouring of ideas and a new excitement about the upcoming commemoration events. We need to prioritize and stay real. But we must also seize the opportunity to improve what we otherwise find a great place to live. ¿
Even if you are of the mind that our commemorations should be modest at best, you should appreciate the benefit of adding quality, adding customers, and improving property values. For those of you who seek long-term benefit to our residents beyond just near-term fun, the commission can help us achieve lasting impact. This could include everything from accurate history to better exhibition space, beautification, and more diverse economic development. ¿ For those who dream big, this is your best chance to realize some of your dreams. ¿
In anticipating the long overdue first meeting of the federal commission, I'm struck by what an author once said: "an intense anticipation itself transforms possibility into reality; our desires being often but precursors of the things which we are capable of performing."
As I think about transforming possibility into reality and whether we are capable of performing our desires, my mind goes back to this: rarely do we have the opportunity afforded by these commemorative events to focus as a community upon our future. If we put half the effort into this we do in planning our own vacations, we can achieve great things together.
In our lifetime, our most significant community birthday is approaching. What do we want for our birthday? ¿ ¿
On July 18, a distinguished group will gather to help us fulfill that wish whatever it may be. We should be there in force to say "thank you."
Bill Leary was elected to the St. Augustine City Commission last fall. He formerly served on the city's Planning and Zoning Board. Before moving to St. Augustine, he held positions in the federal government including as a senior advisor to Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush for the White House Council on Environmental Quality.