For Illinois, it's both the best of times and the worst of times.
The worst times, arguably, are found easily in newspapers such as this one, which have chronicled the gridlock, dysfunction and division that have flowed from Springfield for years.
And the best times? They are part of an "absolutely incredible" state history to which we are the heirs, Perry County Circuit Clerk Kim Kellerman says. To make her point, she invoked the words of the state's most famous citizen.
"The past 200 years, some things have remained the same, and some things have changed," Kellerman said Monday. "As most of you know, we are kind of at a crossroads in Illinois right now, but to quote Abraham Lincoln, 'The best way to predict your future is to create it.'"
Kellerman was the keynote speaker Monday during a flag-raising ceremony at the Perry County Courthouse marking the state's 199th birthday. The tribute was duplicated at dozens of courthouses and municipal buildings around the state at noon Monday to kick off a year of observations ahead of the state's 200th birthday Dec. 3, 2018.
High winds moved much of Perry County's ceremony inside the courthouse, where those in attendance were greeted by Mary Roe, who is coordinating the county's bicentennial activities. Roe, noting Perry County's relative proximity to the state's first capital at Kaskaskia, said the bicentennial offers an opportunity to reflect on the state's remarkable past and the many contributions it has made to the nation's political and cultural lives.
"We want this bicentennial to remind us every day in Illinois that amazing things are born, built and grown," Roe said. "We want to honor the many ways that Illinois has influenced American history, achievement, culture, innovation and more ... We've chosen to live here, stay here, raise our families here, work here, retire here. We can inspire pride in Illinois and show the world what makes this state so great."
The Rev. James Barnett of Pinckneyville United Methodist Church led the invocation and closing prayer, and members of the Pinckneyville Community High School choir, under the direction of Amber Nichols, sang "The Star Spangled Banner." Following Kellerman's comments, the crowd headed outside and into the wind to raise a special flag observing the bicentennial. The flag was placed on the same pole as the state flag. The PCHS choir also performed the official state song, "Illinois."
Kellerman used much of her speech to detail facts and trivia about Illinois history, as well as the formation of Perry County nine years later out of portions of what had been Jackson and Randolph counties. The county was formed Jan. 29, 1827, and named after the naval commander Oliver Hazard Perry. In June 1828, Pinckneyville was chosen as the county seat.
Kellerman stressed again that a sense of shared history, both among residents of the state and closer to home, gives Illinoisans much to celebrate as they look back on the humble beginnings of the nation's 21st state. She said that spirit will be on continued display as the bicentennial celebration gets underway in earnest.
"We all share the same love for our counties, for our state and for our country," Kellerman said. " ... And as I look around today, I see hope in our young people. I see a community that has come together to raise our flag and to lift each other up in unity, and that, ladies and gentlemen, is what makes us proud Illinoisans."
For more information on Perry County bicentennial activities, email Mary Roe at firstname.lastname@example.org.