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Milestones can include cows and bells; what are yours?: Susannah Gal

Posted 6/14/17

What milestones have been important in your life? For me, there have been lots of them.

A milestone is defined as a stone set up beside a road to mark the distance in miles to a particular place, …

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Milestones can include cows and bells; what are yours?: Susannah Gal

In Switzerland, cows come down from the mountain in the late fall before the snow begins to fall.
In Switzerland, cows come down from the mountain in the late fall before the snow begins to fall.
contributed photo
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What milestones have been important in your life? For me, there have been lots of them.

A milestone is defined as a stone set up beside a road to mark the distance in miles to a particular place, or an action or event marking a significant change or stage in development.

I like the image of a stone marker along the road to indicate a specific distance traveled. I remember seeing markers like that in Europe — looking like small, white tombstones at the side of the road. It helped you know how far you’d gone and how far you might need to go to get to your destination. It’s a bit like a mile marker along a highway that gives you a sense you are moving in the right direction.

I find that information very heartening as it gives me a sense of forward movement toward a given goal. In fact, some grant agencies ask that the request for money include specific milestones that will be reached in a defined time frame. Many won’t give funds until those milestones are reached.

May and June are filled with milestones for many families. There are high school and college graduations that indicate completion of requirements for a series of courses and activities.

In some groups, the first communion or the bar (bat) mitzvah are very significant events. I remember hearing a story on National Public Radio recently about how much people in some areas of the world spend for the first communion dress plus the celebration and party afterward; it’s close to $1,000 per child.

I also remember the bar mitzvahs of my three nephews. There was a lot they needed to prepare for the service that would mark them as a functioning member of the Jewish faith. They needed to be able to read the Bible passage of the day in Hebrew. You thought Spanish or French was hard. Wait until you see Hebrew.

Normally there are only consonants represented by the letters, with the vowel sounds between them added as symbols below the letters. Plus the readers of the Torah have to use a sing-song tone when reading the passage. The people undergoing the bar/bat mitzvah also need to have a commentary on that passage to provide the assembled people at the Temple. I’m sure it’s a daunting task for a 12- or 13-year-old. The party afterwards seemed almost over the top.

Also, I remember when my younger daughter was invited to a quinceñera party, that’s a festive celebration for a Latin American girl’s 15th birthday. That was a pretty big deal for my daughter’s friend.

Do you remember anything about your graduations from high school or college, like who were your graduation speakers or what they said? Penn State’s head football coach, James Franklin was at the recent Penn State Harrisburg graduation ceremony in May and he said rarely do people remember much about their commencement speaker.

I do remember that Maya Angelou spoke at my graduation from Smith College in 1980, though I can’t remember what she talked about.

Coach Franklin talked about being motivated in one’s career, and encouraged the students to stay broke and to help others. I found it a very inspiring speech.

I find it interesting that not all cultures celebrate graduations from college or high school. I think that’s too bad as it’s a real mile marker for becoming an adult in our society. I noticed it when we lived in different parts of Europe and never heard of or saw any mention of graduations.

In Europe, they do have other ways that they celebrate milestones such as for the harvest or for the longest day of the year (the Summer Solstice). In France, for the Summer Solstice, they had music in all parts of the city of Rouen going most of the evening and night. We walked around from area to area, hearing many different kinds of musical groups.

In Switzerland, there was a big celebration for the time when cows come down from the mountain in the late fall before the snow begins to fall. The farmers would decorate the heads of the best milk producers with extra flowers and decorations and all of the cows had large bells around their necks. It was such a fun community event.

In the wine region of Neuchatel, Switzerland, they had a large wine harvest celebration in the fall with wine tastings and lots of other good food celebrating the food produced during the season.

For the New Year, I remember going to the cathedral square in Basel, Switzerland, with hundreds of others where the largest bell tolls out the old year and the smallest bells peel in the New Year. People were sharing champagne in real glasses all across the square even on the coldest nights. These all were such nice community celebrations of yearly milestones.

So what have been my milestones? Certainly when I graduated from high school and then college, getting married and having my first child are some of the milestones I remember. Buying our first home was also a lovely milestone to remember. I know that some people also celebrate paying off the mortgage of a house by burning the document. I understand that the banks have big warnings about not doing that, as that document could be useful for establishing your credit worthiness. I realize that most of those “American” milestones are often personal ones, while those in other cultures can be more related to the community.

Why would celebrating milestones be important? I think these can serve a role as a group celebration and recognition of important events in a person’s life. They are often a powerful community witness of the progress down a road.

In our community of Middletown, there are two major milestones being celebrated. At Penn State Harrisburg, we are finishing our 50th anniversary celebration at the end of the summer. We’ve had lectures and alumni gatherings, plus events and three new ice cream flavors for our campus.

St. Peter’s Lutheran Church is celebrating 250 years of serving the community this year. They have been doing that with a variety of different concerts at the church on Spring and Union streets, as well as in the original building, the Kierch on Union Street. These are a great celebration and recognition of the role this church group has played in the developing community of Middletown.

The Kierch is a beautiful old church that exudes history in its simple architecture and decorations. Heads up — while there is electricity, there is no heat and no air conditioning. Fans are provided for the hot days.

Tell me about your most memorable milestones. And congratulations to all the Middletown Area High School graduates!

Susannah Gal is associate dean of research and outreach and a professor of biology at Penn State Harrisburg. She has lived around the world and made Middletown her home in July 2015. She can be reached at susannahgal1000@gmail.com.