Skip to content

The Jefferson Memorial—To Wear Still the Coats Which Fitted Them As Boys

“Bob Anderson was perhaps just another stonemason working for contractor John McShain, but on occasion, the stonemason had felt a personal attachment to working on the Jefferson memorial. Sat pensively on the steps facing the Tidal Basin—himself covered in flecks and specks of dust and stone from across America—the grey-haired worker was contemplating the lines he had merely moments before hammered into white Georgian marble, with a labour-worn bolster passed to him by his father in turn:

. . . laws and constitutions must go hand in hand with the progress of the human mind, as what becomes more developed, more enlightened, as new discoveries are made, new truths discovered and manners and opinions change, with the change of circumstance, institutions must also advance to keep pace with the times . . .

Although there had been numerous workers’ strikes complaining over low pay (as reported in the Chicago Daily Tribune), Anderson couldn’t help but wonder whether his particular efforts transcended this worry; in particular what was the legacy that would be passed on to his two boys—would they grow up as men to wear tailored suits, or would they be constrained, against Jefferson’s behest, by being forced to wear still the coats which fitted them as boys?”

Inscription on the Jefferson Memorial, Washington DC
One of the inscriptions at the Jefferson Memorial. An excerpt from a letter to Samuel Kercheval (July 12, 1816). Photograph by Jim McKeeth for English Wikipedia.

The above was submitted as part of a personal statement to universities within the US for admittance to PhD programmes in physical chemistry. The fictional story was provided as an illustration of how challenging traditions and orthodox viewpoints can benefit the sciences; constantly updating our outlook by asking ‘why do we do things this way to begin with?’ should be a core tenet of science. As of June 2016, I took up a PhD position at the University of Southern California. The University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign and UC Berkeley also offered me fully-funded positions.



One Comment

  1. […] for my PhD applications to the US with a story; a succinct, semi-factual tale of Bob Anderson, a stone-mason working on the Jefferson Memorial whose occupation causes him to reflect on his contribution to society, and whether this […]

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *