“Don’t judge a book by its cover”, an often overused metaphor to teach people not to form an opinion without careful thinking, is a lesson which I luckily learned through a person who is highly respected around the world. I used to be part of a small school newspaper club in my elementary school down in Beacon, where I got a chance meet a famous folk-singer and activist, Pete Seeger. I was assigned to write an article about him, which caught me completely off guard because we were usually never assigned a topic. I did dread it at first, because I had no idea who he was. After some rigorous sessions of research, all I found was that he was an old man in his 90’s who was pretty famous for smashing metal fingerpicks on a 12-stringed banjo and singing metaphorical songs when my great-grandmother was alive. Old folk music wasn’t really my thing back then, and it still isn’t today. It was such a thrilling experience to sit in front of an empty word document for 30 minutes, pondering about how to start a panegyric for a man I had no interest in. Then, the interview happened.
It was an ordinary day after school, when I was given the opportunity to interview Pete Seeger. He was a lot different than I anticipated him to be: 90 years old, but still headstrong. While jamming on his hand-crafted banjo, he taught me many life lessons, such as to learn to respect others and to be thankful for education, but there was one lesson that stood out. “How do you think you can change the world?” Pete asked me right before we ended the interview. I gave him a blank stare, not knowing how to reply to a question so deep. I waited and hoped that he would break the awkward silence that was keeping me from leaving the room. “Passion,” he said. “Staying devoted and passionate about something you love will get you far in life.” For Pete, music and the dream of changing the world into a better place were what drove him to keep on working, even after reaching his 90th birthday. His passion led him to put endless efforts into bettering racial equality, the environment, population growth, etc. He would use his music to convey an important message such as peace to the general public. I was slapped in the face with an overwhelming force of wrongness, and I realized that Pete was more than a banjo-strumming singer.
When I started to write my article the very next day, my whole attitude on Pete had changed. I felt like I had to share his story to our school, a preview of what is actually behind the old man. To this day, I always have flashbacks to when I met Pete Seeger, and it reminds me to do what I love to do, which in my case, is playing the violin. Pete was like a book, and I was fortunate enough to read his story.