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This I Believe: The Power of Airports

Mark McDonald - Rochester High School
Beatrice Bonner
NPR Illinois 91.9 UIS
Mark McDonald - Rochester High School

I found myself winding through the infamous “mile-long line” at Chicago O'Hare International Airport. Frustration simmering within me, I whispered the famous words of every impatient child: “I hate this.”

Yet, amidst the wait, something changed. I took a few moments to take in my surroundings: Families clustered with luggage, passports in hand; arrivals and departures boards disclosing imminent flights; flight attendants offering welcoming smiles at the gate. The symphony of rolling suitcases and the gleam of laminated floors underfoot; wall art that extends hospitality in forms such as “Hello” and “Welcome” in a multitude of languages. The flight staff's warm salutations, ushering you toward your destination with wishes for a joyful journey ahead. An uncanny sense of belonging pervades these spaces.

Growing up in an immigrant family, traveling thousands of miles to visit my grandparents was my norm. There were no grand Thanksgiving feasts or festive Christmas gatherings; no, "Granny's visiting soon because Dad and I have work." Airports, for me, embodied a catalyst of cherished childhood memories – summer visits to grandma and grandpa’s in England, or mama and papa's in Hungary. Understandably, airports took on a deep personal significance, woven into the fabric of a childhood shaped by cross-continental connections.

As I became more independent, airports assumed new roles: Igniting the flames of adventure, sparking discoveries, and kindling learning.

Airports also bring to mind the radiant smiles of Nicaraguan children who received soccer balls and school supplies from us during our visit — now many years ago. Airports conjure memories of the tradition of annual spring breaks spent with my mother, exploring various American cities, both to relax and to learn: Washington, D.C., unveiled the inner workings of the American democratic machine; Boston's historic sites painted a vivid picture of the Revolutionary War and our nation’s formative years; San Francisco illuminated the rich tapestry of immigration and industry; and New York City bared its artistic soul through music and culture.

I believe there's an ethereal quality to the anonymity of airports. Yet, this very anonymity kindles a shared purpose – to reach one's destination collectively.

Airports act as a crucible, uniting people from across the globe in their pursuit of diverse destinations – even when their intentions diverge. Moreover, airports signify potential beyond history. They encapsulate my aspiration to become an ambassador for my homeland – a global emissary, striking agreements, conveying messages, and embracing diverse cultures. Stepping back, I recognize that airports are not just personal to me. They have the power to inspire and connect people around the world. Airports, symbols of diplomatic collaboration, underscore respect and trust, allowing individuals to cross borders freely for leisure or exploration." But in a more figurative sense, airports foster emotions, experiences and inspiration, which are the keystones of human motivation.

In this intricate tapestry of experiences and aspirations, I find my unwavering belief in the power of airports. They are the vessels of dreams, the crossroads of cultures, and the embodiment of limitless potential.

This I Believe Illinois is NPR Illinois' annual essay program for Illinois high school seniors. An expression of where their minds are as they prepare to enter the adult world. This I Believe was started by radio journalist Edward R. Murrow in 1951 to allow anyone able to distil the guiding principles by which they lived. Special thank you to our sponsors: The Rotary Club of Springfield Sunrise, BLH Computers, Illinois Times, Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum, and Mary Beth & Harvey M. Stephens.

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