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Thursday, October 30, 2014

Column: Going back to the best night of college

This week marks the three-year anniversary of the death of Osama bin Laden.

Nate Atkins

April 28, 2014

The opinions expressed by The Maneater columnists do not represent the opinions of The Maneater editorial board.

Three years ago this week, news broke that Osama bin Laden had been killed, and the best night of college ensued.

That night, I found myself in the middle a riot of the American spirit in Greek Town. I could recreate it for you now that I’m a senior, as I have tried to do all semester. But this week, I want to try something different.

I want to share what I wrote that night immediately after running back to my room in Hatch Hall, where some part of me then seemed to speak to me now.

From freshman me:


There lay the American flag. Beneath the shoulder-to-shoulder crowd of crazed MU students dotting the campus-wide celebration of all things American, the tiny symbol of freedom rests on the sidewalk of the Greek Town street. I meander through the jubilant jumpers, kick aside the celebratory debris and kneel down by its side. Upon picking up the miniature flag, I am overwhelmed by both empowerment and relief. For beneath the rubble and chaos, the flag remains intact. It is tattered, worn and aged but forever there, waiting for the time when someone will pick it back up.

I return to the mob party scene, and a new wave of emotion takes over. Shouts mixed with blasted patriotic songs echo down from the rooftops, raining upon the masses the news of a decade’s wait. Collegiate patriots jump from abandoned cars and hurl all that can be thrown over the suspending telephone wires and release in every direction an array of fireworks — all in a collective expression of what it means to live the life of the free.

At the end of the street is a police car. Its driver stands in front, taking in a sight to be revisited in dreams and memories for all the years that follow. It quickly becomes clear the policewoman’s momentary moral duty: not to impede the celebration, but to further protect the rights that pre-dated all that stood before her.

One pan of the crowd pinpoints a young couple closing the gap of a street’s walk to unity. Engaging in a hug of untapped joy, their voices ring out in unison: “We caught him! We caught him!”

Another view spots an enormous flag, making its way through the rambunctious crowd. Leading its way is a young man carrying the flag with enormous pride as he wipes away the tears that stream down his face.

In a country of establishment, laws and moral code, the most beautiful in life often remains the sincerely unconventional. Whereas construct, plan and direction deliver the human race its needed order, it is through honest growth, spontaneous measure and raw emotion that ordinary lives take control of what it means to produce something great.

In taking account of the picture that now frames the highlights of my memory, what ironically stands out from the indescribable scene that evening from May 1, 2011, was all that wasn’t there. In the moment of jubilant chaos, there was no racial tension, ethnic stereotypes or rules of exclusion. What stood instead was pure, American nature stripped bare of its intricacies. What remained was a celebration — a tearful, overdue celebration.

Beaten, trampled, trashed and scattered yet resilient, strong, sustaining and free. The tiny American flag I hold high amid a crowd of a thousand lives draws many parallels to the people it represents. And as showcased by patriotic parades spanning across the plains of U.S. soil that Sunday night, six million people stand ready at a moment’s notice to show the rest of the world exactly why.


The best memories don’t leave us, but they do start to fade. They become like blurs, as if all of them were wild parties. We wake up the next day and the details are foggy, but we’ll go at it again next Friday night just for the possibility that the rush can return.

I write because I don’t want the night to ever have to end.

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