Etgar 36

Day 20: San Francisco

By Sari Birdcall:

With the theme of the California stretch of our trip being power, we zoned in on the idea of people power for our journey through San Francisco.

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After a 9:10am departure, we headed to the San Francisco Public Library to learn about illiteracy in America. As a student who has loved to read for years, it shocked me to hear about the lack of readings abilities in the country. What was even more shocking, though, was the fact that our speaker, Leon Veal, was illiterate until the age of 44. Perhaps the most surprising information was that Leon was able to earn a high school diploma and an associates degree without the ability to read. Nothing thrills me more than sitting down with a good book, so it broke my heart to hear about how the education system overlooked Leon’s struggles and continued to pass him despite the fact that they knew he could not read. He did, however, eventually join a tutoring program and learned to read. In keeping with the theme of power, he enlightened us not just on the power of literacy, but also on the power of one person to help another and ultimately make a huge difference in the world because of what the one person could accomplish.

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We finished off our meeting and walked to the San Francisco port, called the Embarcadero, for lunch. The food was delicious, but the view was better. Sitting outside on the bench while enjoying my meal was a truly wonderful experience. I couldn’t help but wonder what a better place the world would be if everyone was able to look at such beautiful scenery everyday.

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We then headed over to Minerva, a college focused on changing the current system of higher education. As a group of teenagers all set on the fairly standard track of going to college, hearing from Minerva was fascinating. The speakers actually asked us what we believe a college should have in each of six categories: campus, students, faculty, curriculum, classroom, and cost/admission. The philosophy of the school was extremely different from the norm and questioned how things could be done better, which fit well with the concept of Etgar.

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After a period of free time in Union Square, we took the train over to Berkeley. We stopped at the center of campus to hear about the history of “Berzerkley” and the anti-Vietnam War movement. As we learned from Patti Smith, “people have the power,” and students are capable of creating huge change.

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After a detour at People’s Park and some words of wisdom from a local, we all ventured out into campus for dinner. We then wandered over to a local temple for Friday night services. The temple, however, was like no other. It was an incredibly spiritual experience and we were able to dance around the room with the congregants. Never before have I laid down on the floor of a temple in the middle services, and I most certainly did not except for it to be a legitimately moving experience. One congregant even told me that she wants her granddaughter from Montana to go on Etgar. Simply put: if service were always that fun, you could find me there every Friday night.

Lastly, once we returned to the hotel, we had to bid farewell to Max, who has to return home to Atlanta. Fortunately for me, though, I also live in Atlanta, so Max is going to have a hard time getting rid of me. Going without him for the rest of the trip, however, is quite the loss. As an avid English student, having an English teacher as a staff member was kind of amazing. I think I speak for every participant when I say we’ll miss Max, but we’re grateful to have had him on the journey for the time that we did.