Forget St. Patrick’s Day, it’s Liberalia at Rock Bridge

The school renewed an ancient Roman holiday celebrating young men who had reached voting age.
Thursday, March 18, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 2:11 a.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 22, 2008

St. Patrick’s Day came in second Wednesday as Rock Bridge High School’s Junior Classical League resurrected Liberalia, a holiday that was held every March 17 in ancient Rome.

“As far as I know, we’re the first school to do it,” said club sponsor Julia Goodell, who also teaches Latin and mythology at the school.

In ancient Rome, Liberalia was a celebration of young men becoming old enough to vote. Participants would don new togas that symbolized adulthood and citizenship, march to the core of the city and register to vote.

“It was always a joyous occasion,” said Goodell. “People would line the streets and applaud for them as they went down to enter their new lives as adult citizens of Rome. We’re trying to simulate that today.”

Students strive for realistic recreation

Although people did not line the streets and cheer, the club tried to make the simulation as accurate as possible. A dozen students — some of them in makeshift togas — gathered outside the high school and prepared for their journey to downtown Columbia. Principal Bruce Brotzman wished the students luck and watched as they departed in their cars, or “chariots” as he called them.

The celebration was supposed to take place outside the Boone County Courthouse, but rain forced the club to move into the adjacent Roger B. Wilson Government Center. The students set food they brought on a table as the first speaker, Boone County Clerk Wendy Noren, entered the room and greeted them.

Noren advocates voter turnout to students

Noren told the students that although presidential elections have the highest voter turnouts, it is important to vote in state and local elections as well. “Those are going to have more impact on your lives,” she said.

Noren also encouraged the students to get involved in political campaigns, saying, “The only way this Democracy can survive is by getting people involved in it.”

The other two speakers were Charles Christy, chairman of the Boone County Democratic Central Committee, and Don Stamper, the former Boone County presiding commissioner. They, too, explained the significance of voting and also described their experiences in politics.

Some students use Liberalia to register to vote

Most of the club members had registered to vote prior to Liberalia. Noren provided registration forms to those who had not, and the other students applauded after they finished filling them out.

“Ever since I learned about the Liberalia party, I always wished I could have one for myself,” said Charbel Moltzan, one of the students who registered. “I feel like I’ve done my civic duty, and that makes me happy. I’ll be at every election from here on out.”

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