Catalyst students feel like royalty at times, because where we learn and how we learn can feel pretty, well, regal. But if having the British Museum for class one day and The Tower of London the next is our usual on The Catalyst, we always work to make things as special as we can for our students. Which is how and why Dr. Mackaman's students saw Queen Elizabeth one day as while learning about World War One.
Like every morning of class, the intrepid World War One students met Dr. Mack on the steps of Smart Hostel at 9;30 sharp. It was a cloudy and chilly morning with rain forecasted, so everyone had good shoes and umbrellas for the session. Students were in high spirits and ready for a rainy walk. Conversation was rampant on the way to the first teaching site about a cheap and amazing Indian restaurant the group had found the night before. Our first stop was Tavistock Square, where Dr. Mack led our discussion on the complex causes of World War One. We circled around the famous statue of remembrance to the peace movement that had tried to stop the war back in 1914. Then the rain came on harder, and Dr. Mack suggested we all duck into a pub nearby to get some coffee and keep our talk going.
As we drank our coffee in a gorgeous pub that was almost 200 years old, we dug into our discussion about 1914 and what the British Royal Fusiliers did on one single day in August 1914. Dr. Mack is an emotional teacher. Anybody who takes his classes knows this. But as we looked around and understood we were in was the oldest Irish Pub in London, talking about the personal sacrifice of one Irish officer who died to save the lives of his company, he wasn't the only person with high emotions at our table. We paid our tab, and Dr. Mack kept looking at his watch with urgency. Then we turned onto Fleet Street again, and he said: "we need to roll now, toward Buckingham Palace to pay our respects."
When you walk with professors on The Catalyst, you walk faster and farther than you ever have before. And just when you wonder if you've got a new blister, they will usually stop, pivot, circle the group into a little park somewhere. And keep the lecture going. (While your blister cools down.) This morning Dr. Mack walked faster than usual and stopped less. We made our way to Covent Garden for a short talk there about the farewell scenes that sent the British Army off to war. And then we walked just a little more and suddenly our feet got to rest because the crowds of happy and excited people slowed and then stopped us. Dr. Mack kept us together as the rain came harder, and our group moved through the crowd until we were positioned in a line right at the front. "Be ready with your phones, now, " Dr. Mack told us along our line.
When we saw and heard the awesome crush of horses' hooves on the old pavement, it was exciting enough. But then everybody leaned forward as an amazing, gilt coach rounded the corner and thundered right toward where we stood. Every accent you can imagine was calling out pretty much the same news: "Here she comes now! It's our Queen!" We waited with our phones out, holding our breath. Thinking how far away our small towns in the farmlands of Wisconsin and the mountains of North Carolina were for us now. Because with a peel of bells all around and the rain finally passing, there we were for our Catalyst class on World War One with the newest student showing up in a ride for the ages!
I remember texting everybody at home, plus all the Catalyst kids in other classes. And until I sent the pictures as proof, nobody believed what we did for class that day. As incredible as it was to see Queen Elizabeth in our class, I still remember the final learning piece we went on to do that day. Dr. Mack led us to a tiny garden just around the corner from where we saw the Queen. And there we all stood to wrap-up our day at the garden called "Flanders Fields." I read the poem about the soldiers and their graves all over the part of France called Flanders. I think there'd been so much emotion on just this morning that nobody else wanted to be the one who read the poem. Reading the poem with my classmates all there and getting through it just as the sun finally came out was one of my greatest memories of the summer. And the queen, of course.