Q+A with Langston (a junior at our high school) and Ian (tutor)

Q: What brings you to school on this chilly Monday?

Langston: We're working on Spanish verb conjugations to get ready for the midterm on Thursday.

Q: Why are you here on a day off?

Langston: To review for midterms. I'm worried about AP Language and Comp, because I've been struggling in that class lately.

Ian: To get Langston ready for midterms. It seems like everyone is working today--even though it's a day off.

Q: What would MLK think -- is this a tribute to his ideals?

A: Langston: Yes, for 2 reasons. First, it shows how you need to use your time efficiently. Second, we're here struggling to achieve something difficult, which I think is a good tribute to MLK.

Ah yes, the midnight oil. In 1967, King told a group of kids:

Ralph Waldo Emerson, the great essayist, said in a lecture in 1871, "If a man can write a better book or preach a better sermon or make a better mousetrap than his neighbor, even if he builds his house in the woods, the world will make a beaten path to his door."

This hasn't always been true — but it will become increasingly true, and so I would urge you to study hard, to burn the midnight oil; I would say to you, don't drop out of school. I understand all the sociological reasons, but I urge you that in spite of your economic plight, in spite of the situation that you're forced to live in — stay in school.

King also had some advice for those of us wondering how to precisely calibrate the "college readiness" message.

And when you discover what you will be in your life, set out to do it as if God Almighty called you at this particular moment in history to do it. Don't just set out to do a good job. Set out to do such a good job that the living, the dead or the unborn couldn't do it any better.

If it falls your lot to be a street sweeper, sweep streets like Michelangelo painted pictures, sweep streets like Beethoven composed music, sweep streets like Leontyne Price sings before the Metropolitan Opera. Sweep streets like Shakespeare wrote poetry. Sweep streets so well that all the hosts of heaven and earth will have to pause and say: Here lived a great street sweeper who swept his job well.

If you can't be a pine at the top of the hill, be a shrub in the valley. Be be the best little shrub on the side of the hill. Be a bush if you can't be a tree. If you can't be a highway, just be a trail. If you can't be a sun, be a star. For it isn't by size that you win or fail. Be the best of whatever you are.