Visiting Our State Capitol

May 7, 2011 | 5 comments

May 6, 2911 in Olympia

     I don’t know if it’s misplaced pride, patriotism or sentimentality, but I am a sucker for pomp and circumstance and ritual and all the trappings of heritage.  I get a real thrill from attending elaborate ceremonies and visiting stately homes and touring beautiful important buildings.  So, visiting our State Legislative Building in Olympia yesterday for the Letters About Literature Awards Ceremony fulfilled all my ideas of a great time!
     Letters About Literature is a national reading and writing program for students in grades four through twelve.  It is sponsored by the Library of Congress in conjunction with (in our state) the Washington State Library.  Since the State Library comes under the jurisdiction of the Secretary of State, the awards ceremony takes place in that very impressive office in the Legislative Building in Olympia.
    This year, like last, I was a judge in the Level I (4th through 6th grades) category.  Back in March, I had the pleasure of reading the letters of the 56 Washington State semi-finalists in that division. Then, during a conference call with the two other Level I judges, we determined that McKenna Conlin, a sixth grader from Kirkland, was the winner.  She had written to Sherman Alexie concerning his book The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian.
     I loved meeting McKenna yesterday and seeing Secretary of State Sam Reed present her with her award.  Like the two other, older, award recipients, she read her winning letter – a letter that explained to Mr. Alexie how his book had influenced her thinking and her life.  It was a wonderful letter, made all the more poignant when I learned from her mother after the ceremony that McKenna’s father had died the first of February.  “As it turns out,” she said, “this is McKenna’s tribute to her dad.”
     Too, I loved listening, for the second year in a row, as Secretary Reed spoke beforehand to the audience regarding the grandeur of the building and of the spacious office  in which we sat.  He talked of the foresight of those who planned it back in the early 1900s and of their desire to leave a monument that would give the residents of Washington a continuing inspiration and symbol of their citizenship.
     Although the building was not completed until 1928, it was conceived in an architectural competition in 1911.  My grandfather was serving in the state legislature that year and I take a bit of pride – for absolutely no reason – in that ‘connection.’  In his day, of course, my grandfather worked in the “old” capitol building – not nearly as impressive as this one whose dome is the fourth tallest of any masonry dome in the world.  (Only the domes of St. Peter’s Cathedral in Rome, St. Paul’s Cathedral in London, and St. Isaac’s Cathedra in St. Petersburg surpass it!)     It was, indeed, a suitable setting for yesterday’s award ceremony.  


  1. Linda J

    I just read Sherman Alexie’s book last month (and loved it), and I would like to read McKenna Conlin’s letter. Is it online somewhere?

    • sydney

      Yes, the letters are online. Just Google Winning Letters About Literature and you will find McKenna’s letter as well as all of the winners in all the participating states. Very impressive stuff!

  2. Pat Krager

    Sydney, I don’t know if you are aware that Rita Niesen spent about 4 years as a volunteer tour guide at the Capitol. Jim still volunteers at the reception desk there one day a week. Rita has just changed to giving tours of the Governor’s Mansion. Whereas her capitol tours were once a week, the Mansion tours she guides will be the first Wednesday of each month.

    • sydney

      I had no idea!


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