Monday, December 8, 2008

Lasting mark left by Lincoln class

Last fall, I was all ready to sign up for the last course to complete a professional designation for my real job. The course? Liability Claims Practices. The designation? Associate in Claims – my sixth designation in the past 10 years or so. I’d set a goal of completing the designation by the end of 2009. However, those plans went awry one morning as I opened our local newspaper. There on the front page was an article about a college course, “The Life and Times of Abraham Lincoln.”

People I work with know of my love of lifelong learning. They don’t understand it – but they know it is part of my essence. They know I’m usually working toward a designation and I can tell them which one I’m doing next. The goals I set normally are no secret.

The secret goal
I set another goal a few years back, though. It was 2002 and the first articles were beginning to hit the press about the bicentennial of Abraham Lincoln’s birth. Some courses I’d taken and some of my freelance articles were Lincoln-related. They had lit a fire under me that would likely not be extinguished. I resolved when I saw that article that I would begin to set things in motion so I could be doing Lincoln-related work – of some sort - by the Feb. 12, 2009 bicentennial. Life got busy and the flame smoldered some. And the dream? I didn’t share that one. That goal was secret – known only to a privileged few. It just seemed too far out there. Who would believe in me – or in my dream?

Then came that late summer morning, the front page article in the Pantagraph, Heartland College and Dr. Scott Rager - and the beginning of the realization of my dream. I could begin to move along the continuum from Lincoln enthusiast to Lincoln scholar. The course was to be my first real step.

A bittersweet goodbye
Tonight I said my good-byes for now to academia. I took my final exam. The course is complete, but my life is forever changed. I always take something from every course I take and, from this one, I took so much.

I truly can’t ever remember a time in my life when I wasn’t mesmerized by the Lincoln legacy - from backwoods roots like those of many of my ancestors to the White House – with less than a year of school. Who wouldn’t be impressed by a story like that one? I knew the popular Lincoln, and thanks to a great undergrad teacher who is an Illinois literature expert, I knew the literary Lincoln, but I didn’t know Lincoln the lawyer, the politician or the President.

Guess what I know now? I not only know a whole lot more, but I also know there’s a ton I don’t know. With more than 1600 books about him and hundreds of scholars turning up new information and new theories every day, there is a lot I will never know.

What I do know is that I had an opportunity of a lifetime – and I shared it with some incredible people. The class was open to the public, either for credit or for enrichment. Students ran the gamut from some really cool, really bright traditional college students to a husband and wife team, a mother and daughter, a retiree with several degrees and others in between. Each of them brought their own unique perspective to the class, and I learned from all of them.

All across the board
Just to give you an example of the wide variety of knowledge and varied interests in the class, here are some of the topics selected by the students who completed term papers:
  • Lincoln and Slavery
  • Lincoln and the Constitution
  • Mary Todd Lincoln’s Marriage
  • Lincoln’s Romances
  • Lincoln’s Changing Views on Race and Slavery
  • Lincoln: His Choices, His Public, His Critics
  • Lincoln and His Cabinet
  • Lincoln Assassination Theories
  • Mentoring Lincoln: A Worthwhile Investment

These are some pretty heavy topics for a 200-level course and the students all “nailed it.”

An enriching semester

I guess maybe as a non-traditional student, you come to a course with a different perspective and a greater appreciation. I knew that since this was a new course, Dr. Rager was having even more homework to do than we were. Preparing lectures, lesson plans, seeking enrichment materials – it couldn’t have been easy. Yet, each week he was ready for us. He supplemented his lectures with several of the great documentaries available on Lincoln, arranged a couple field trips and kept us abreast of local Lincoln-related events. We even had guest speakers – three local Lincoln scholars, all known and respected in the Lincoln world:

  • Roger Bridges,
  • Guy Fraker and
  • Stewart Winger.

Watch for more about these brilliant men and their areas of expertise in an upcoming article.

Don’t miss the opportunity
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. This bicentennial year is an once-in-a-lifetime opportunity – or as Julie Cellini of the U.S. and Illinois Bicentennial Commissions says, a once-in-a-century opportunity. If you missed the fall class at Heartland, though, you didn’t miss your chance to take this class. It’s offered again in the spring. Enrollment closes very soon. Don’t miss your chance. Call Heartland College and tell them you want to take History 296.

Oh, and as for me? I’m now beginning that Claims class I put off, my blog continues and my Lincoln studies have just begun…


Deb Peterson said...

Hi Ann!

I'm the Continuing Education Guide at, part of the New York Times Company. I blogged about you today:

Thanks for the inspiration, and good luck with your Lincoln studies. You rock!


Lincoln Buff 2 said...


Thanks so much.