By Curt Yeomans
Ashley Toles, a Clayton State University Army ROTC cadet decked out in a camouflage uniform, walked up a staircase to a microphone in rigid fashion on Thursday.
An American flag stood a few feet to her left, while flag-inspired banners hung from the railing behind her.
Toles was one of a group of Clayton State students, faculty, administrators and staff members who participated in the university's fourth annual reading of the U.S. Constitution. The event was the culmination of Clayton State's two-week Constitution Days celebration, which commemorates the 221st anniversary of the signing of the nation's governing document.
Toles, 20, a resident of Riverdale, waited as Cadet Robert Nicholas recited his section of the U.S. Constitution before she began to read the first two sections of Article III -- the article which established the judicial branch of the federal government.
For Toles, reading a portion of the Constitution in public made her feel a bond to the nation's founding fathers.
"I'm really proud that I can be part of something that is important to this nation. It's the greatest piece of literature we have," said Toles. "To me, the Constitution is an outline for how to be an American."
While the Constitution was not ratified by enough states to go into effect until New Hampshire gave its approval on June 21, 1788, the members of the constitutional convention in Philadelphia signed their names to the document nearly a year earlier -- on Sept. 17, 1787. As a result, each Sept. 17 is known as Constitution Day in this nation.
Each year, Clayton State President Thomas K. Harden leads the reading of the Constitution on the second to last day of Constitution Days, by reciting its preamble. Harden is followed by professors, staff members and students who read short passages, sometimes only two sections of the document.
Joe Corrado, a professor of political science at Clayton State, and coordinator of the university's American Democracy Project, said the Constitution is the longest-surviving governing document in the world. "What's important about the Constitution is it's alive and open to change," said Corrado as he opened the ceremony.
Mary Evelyn Tomlin, public programs specialist at the National Archives and Records Administration's Southeast Region office in Morrow, said the Constitution is a living document, because it was written in a way that lets each generation interpret it in a different way. This allows the Constitution to adapt to society as moods shift on various issues.
"The founding fathers were very perceptive in crafting the document, and that is why it has been able to survive through the centuries," said Tomlin, who also read part of the Constitution.
For some students, like Cadet Robert Nicholas, the chance to read a portion of the Constitution was an awe-inspiring event.
"The Constitution sets the laws we live by every day," said Nicholas. "It's an honor to read something our nation's founding fathers wrote."