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Students compare Obama, Lincoln speeches in class

By Staff | Jan 22, 2009

President Barack Obama’s inaugural speech may have been delivered Tuesday, but its inspiring messages of change are resonating throughout schools across Cape Coral.
This week, a teacher at Mariner Middle School challenged students to analyze Obama’s words to find a deeper meaning.
Patricia Garretto led her seventh-grade language arts class Thursday afternoon in reading Obama’s nearly 20-minute inaugural speech. Each of the students read the speech aloud and compared it to the second inaugural speech of Abraham Lincoln from March 4, 1865.
“Yesterday we read the Obama speech and today we’re going to read the speech from Lincoln,” said Garretto. “The reason we did that is because Obama said he based his speech on Lincoln’s.”
In interviews with national media, Obama has repeatedly described Lincoln as a source of inspiration.
Before the inauguration, Obama and Vice President Joe Biden took a train from Philadelphia to Washington, D.C., like Lincoln. Obama was sworn in on Lincoln’s Bible and the entire speech was moved from the capital to the Lincoln Monument.
While studying printed copies of both speeches, Garretto pointed out the differences in diction and style between two presidents separated by 150 years. On the other hand, the similarities between the speeches included an underlying theme of unity in the midst of troubled times and divisiveness.
Once the students read both speeches, they chose five sentences or phrases that spoke to them on a profound level. These choices were later used in a comparative essay.
Garretto also asked the students whether the two presidents “want the country united or divided,” and pointed out to them that both speeches’ theme leaned toward a united country.
“It’s fun for them to be political and express their own views,” said Garretto. “Some are doing it in history class, but I’m trying to tie it into language arts.”
Each of the students seemed motivated by what they read and chose for their comparative essay. Although there was no school Tuesday, Garretto said close to 80 percent of her students said they watched the inauguration on television.
Alexa Sepulveda, 13, watched the inauguration at the YMCA where her aunt works. She also described Obama’s presidency as inspiring.
“He is very inspiring because he’s the first black American who is president,” said Sepulveda.
For her essay, Sepulveda said she was touched by the first line of the inaugural speech delivered Tuesday: “I stand here today humbled by the task before us, grateful for the trust you have bestowed, mindful of the sacrifices borne by our ancestors.”
“There may be wrong things he does, not on purpose, but by accident,” she said.
In his analysis, Dylan Yockell, 12, said he liked the ties between Obama’s and Lincoln’s speeches and thought Obama chose a good model for his own words.
Yockell cited the second paragraph of Obama’s speech as one of his favorites: “Yet, every so often the oath is taken amidst gathering clouds and raging storms.”
He chose the phrase because it demonstrates how Obama is entering the presidential office with a number of challenges — the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the troubled economy and international terrorism.
“I like how he talked about how presidents are elected with a lot of problems to deal with off the bat,” said Yockell.
Assistant Principal Shelley Siriano said teachers at the school try to make history come alive by using important figures in history.
“We incorporate important figures into the content regardless of the month,” said Siriano. “It’s a good way to keep history alive and flowing. They do grasp the significance, may not have the words to verbalize it, but they sense an aura of change.”