July 7 WHATS REALLY GOOD

Captain Irving makes history

Barrington Irving, 23, an aerospace student at Florida Memorial University, says he is the first African American and youngest person to fly around the world alone. Flying a single-engine plane called “Inspiration,” which he built from $300,000 worth of donated parts, he finished his three-month trip on June 27, landing at the Opa-Locka Airport in Miami. “I am home, I am proud to be Jamaican and I am happy to have lived out my dream in Miami,” the Jamaican-born young man said.

“They told me I was too young. They told me I didn’t have enough money and I couldn’t do this, that I don’t have the wisdom, the strength or the experience. They told me I would never come back home,” Irving said. He said his mission was to inspire and uplift inner-city children. He said he wanted to show young people that they can do anything, if they believe and work hard. Irving said he encountered snowstorms, sandstorms, monsoons and even hurricanes on his trip. He said he plans to prepare for his next challenge, a more personal one: learning how to swim.

Students confront Bush on torture

Fifty high school seniors in the Presidential Scholars program presented a letter to President Bush, June 25th, urging him to halt “violations of the human rights” of terror suspects held by the U.S. The letter stated: “We do not want America to represent torture. We urge you to do all in your power to stop violations of the human rights of detainees, to cease illegal renditions, and to apply the Geneva Conventions to all detainees, including those designated enemy combatants.”

The handwritten letter said the students “believe we have the responsibility to voice our convictions.” The White House said Bush had not expected the letter. The students had been invited to the East Room to listen to Bush speak about getting Congress to reauthorize the No Child Left Behind Act.

Designation as a Presidential Scholar is one of the nation’s highest honors for graduating high school students. Each year the program selects one male and one female student from each state based on outstanding scholarship, service, leadership and creativity. Deputy Press Secretary Dana Perino said Bush told the student who handed him the letter that the U.S. “does not torture and that we value human rights.”



Let their voices be heard

Last March, the principal of Wilton High School in Connecticut canceled the production of a school play called “Voices in Conflict,” a dramatic series of monologues taken from interviews and letters from real soldiers in Iraq. The script included graphic descriptions of violence and a moral ambiguity that questioned the justness of the war. The cancellation drew national attention.

Bonnie Dickinson, who teaches the advanced drama class at Wilton High, introduced a book of interviews about Iraq veterans and said she thought the material would be perfect for the stage, telling how real soldiers looked and spoke.

“A lot of the soldiers in the play are 18, and a lot of us are, and so it really made it real to us that that could be us over there fighting in Iraq,” said Erin Clancy, who played an Army Reserve sergeant. “I’ve always looked at soldiers as ‘old people.’ But they’re our age. And that’s what I found moving about the whole experience — I feel they’re my friends, that they could be any one of us.”

Some scenes describe soldiers wrestling with post-traumatic stress disorder, questioning the reasons they’re in Iraq or lamenting horrors they see there. Tara Ross played Tammy Duckworth, the Army National Guard pilot who lost her legs in combat, and ran for Congress in Illinois in an antiwar campaign she narrowly lost. “I think it’s the highest honor we can give the troops by letting their voices be heard,” said Ross.

The Music Theater International in New York gave the Wilton students a “Courage in Theater” award.

Compiled by Pepe Lozano (plozano @pww.org).