By Nathan Volke
Councilman, District 3
In May, we celebrated Memorial Day and honored the brave women and men who have paid the ultimate price to secure our freedoms. We can never adequately thank them for their sacrifice. But we can honor what they gave their lives to protect — the liberties enshrined in our constitution and embodied in our optimistic, hardworking and fiercely independent American spirit.
The liberties and sacrifices of the past and hope for the future came together for me in a real way the week of Memorial Day when I spent two days at my alma mater, Chesapeake High School. While in that building, I was reminded of a quote from Nelson Mandela: “There is nothing like returning to a place that remains unchanged to find the ways in which you yourself have altered.”
My first day back was for a presentation to the AP Government class as part of Law Day. Started by President Dwight Eisenhower in 1958, Law Day is dedicated to celebrating the rule of law in our society. Today, legal professionals take this opportunity to speak to students about a theme and how the law has evolved over time; this year’s theme was free speech, free press and free society. Those bedrock principles are the foundations that secure, for ourselves and our posterity, the blessings of liberty. They began in the early 1700s when American courts decided to allow the press to criticize government officials, and they have continued to grow and morph over the centuries.
With rapid changes in technology, it is tough to answer the following questions. What is protected speech? Who is the press? Unlike when I was an AP Government student in 2004, today, anyone with a smartphone can immediately publish their ideas on Twitter or write a blog post to share their perspective. This has provided more transparency and access to information. It has also led to “fake news.” Surveys show that many people agree that we must strongly protect the right of the free press to publish any story without government censorship. But an almost equal number support government passing laws limiting “fake news.”
As a society, we will likely spend a lot of time in the coming years debating how to make laws that respect both of those positions. Given the pace of change in society, it is likely that we will also have entirely new, unexpected issues to consider. Whatever the subject of debate, my hope is the discussion will be respectful and people consider that every one of us possesses equal rights to free speech. As my AP Government teacher would say, “your rights stop at my nose.”
The next day, I participated in the class of 2019 graduation. Talking to a few of the graduates left me beyond impressed and filled with so much hope for the next generation. As the national anthem was sung, I looked at the graduates and pictured what it was like for me to sit on that same field, in those seats, graduating and embarking on the next chapter in life. I did not know then that 15 years later I would have the opportunity to represent this community that I love on the county council. Life is unpredictable. But wherever life leads each of these graduates, I hope they always value and honor the sacrifices of those who came before, and go forward remembering, as I will, some of the advice imparted by the graduation speakers: Dream big. Work hard. Integrity matters. Remember where you started. Time is precious. The best is yet to come.