What it Means to be Free
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ST. LOUIS, May 29 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- The following was written by Benjamin Ola. Akande, Dean, School of Business and Technology, Webster University: Twenty years ago, I was a graduate student at the University of Oklahoma. Like most graduate students, I spent my free time engaged in intellectual discourse about the economy and political events around the world while enjoying jazz, which served as the soothing background music. These discussions awakened many of us from our prolonged political stupor. But 1989, in particular, was a year filled with life-changing events that altered my perception of the meaning and significance of freedom -- 1989 was a turning point in my life. Just in case you spent 1989 in exile or you were on vacation on some deserted island in the middle of nowhere and missed it all (or better yet, were not born), allow me to re-live what turned out to be a year of life-changing events for myself and so many people the world over. This was a year best characterized as an historical oasis, a period of domestic and international political revolutions. Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev's policies of glasnost and perestroika were transforming the Soviet Union. Poland, one of the great bastions of communism, was in the midst of the re-affirmation of political changes. The Polish solidarity movement defeated the communists in the first free parliamentary elections in more than 40 years. Middle-Eastern neighbors Iran and Iraq, after a decade of war, finally stopped fighting each other. Ayatollah Khomeini of Iran, an enigma to many in the West and revered by millions of followers worldwide, made his last pit stop in 1989. This part-time Shiite Iman/part-time roving terrorist and ascetic whose teachings and pronouncements were never questioned by his followers, died, like all mortals. On the home front in America, 1989 was an action-packed season that brought political cleansing, a landmark judicial ruling and the downfall of a bonafide American hero. The United States Supreme Court ruled that flag burning was protected by the U.S. Constitution. The majority ruling concluded that flag burning was a viable expression of freedom of speech. The U.S. House of Representatives concluded that Wright was wrong. The powerful Speaker of the House, Jim Wright, was forced to resign after an investigation by the House Ethics Committee found numerous violations of House rules that stemmed from an autobiography on the Texas lawmaker. In the words of Horace Greeley, as quoted by Jim Wright in his farewell speech as speaker, "Fame is a vapor, popularity an accident, riches take wings, those who cheer you today may curse you tomorrow, only one thing endures ... character." And 1989 claimed the career of a great American sports hero. The Pete Rose saga reminded us that not all that glistens is gold. The question many Americans were asking was: For Pete's sake, why would he gamble on baseball games when he knew that this was a clear violation of Major League rules? Pete bet his life, and then he was banned for life. My most profound memory of 1989 occurred on a square in the most populous nation in the world, China. It started as a peaceful demonstration, a struggle for democracy by two million students. Their symbol was a huge garish version of the Statue of Liberty, all done up in white Styrofoam, uniquely named the Goddess of Democracy. It ended with armored personnel carriers and breached human barricades; the People's Army opened fire, hundreds lay dead ... democracy on hold. The Chinese students sought to sweep away the cobwebs of a disreputable past and build a new and proud legacy for the future. This was not to be. The Chinese government's decision to decimate its youth jeopardized a decade of reform and squandered a global fund of goodwill. This unsuccessful student revolution transformed the way I look at life, the way I live and what I am willing to die for. I was profoundly affected by such callous disregard for human beings. Fast forward 20 years. Memories of the student massacre are fading. Life across the world has changed in many ways. Economic growth and trade have replaced human rights as the measures of a nation's worth. Constructive engagement is the order of the day. The China of the 21st century is an economic powerhouse, and its political intolerance and moral abomination are overshadowed by its economic prosperity. An old Chinese proverb gives me solace and provides an avenue for hope: "The effects of our actions may be postponed, but they are never lost." I would like to believe that the hundreds of Chinese students did not die in vain. It may be 20 or more years from now, but there will be another celebration in Tiananmen Square - it will be the celebration of China's decision to empower its people with democracy. At that time, we shall look back and truly grasp the significance of 1989. Benjamin Ola. Akande, Dean School of Business and Technology Webster University, St. Louis SOURCE Webster University -- Saint Louis Campus Susan Kerth of Webster University -- Saint Louis Campus, +1-314-246-8232, +1-314-220-9130 (cell), firstname.lastname@example.org