MAKE IT COUNT
Many have left a mark in February, for better or for worse.
What a month February has been over the centuries. Twenty years ago this month, Nelson Mandela walked out of South Africa’s Victor Verster prison after serving for 27 years for his activities with the African National Congress. Four years later, he became president after South Africa’s first democratic elections.
Two things that dominate our current landscape also happened in past Februaries: in 2004, Harvard students Mark Zuckerberg, Eduardo Saverin, Andrew McCollum, Dustin Moskovitz and Chris Hughes launched Facebook from their dorm room, while the following year, YouTube, started by former PayPal employees Chad Hurley, Steve Chen and Jawed Karim, went live. Just as ubiquitous, but probably less appealing, it was in February 1909 that the Belgian chemist Leo Baekeland created Bakelite, the world’s first synthetic plastic.
February 1912 saw the abdication of Emperor Puyi, bringing an end to imperial rule in China. Four decades later, Elizabeth II ascended to the thrones of the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and three other Commonwealth countries, where she remains today. In between, in 1923, Egyptologist and archaeologist Howard Carter unsealed the burial chamber of Tutankhamun, revealing the most complete ancient Egyptian royal tomb ever found. Carter himself took 10 years to catalogue the more than 5,000 items found in the tomb.
It was also a February that composer Claudio Monteverdi debuted L’Orfeo, widely considered the first fully developed opera in Mantua, Italy, in 1607. The same month in 1914 saw another debut: Charlie Chaplin’s immortal ‘The Tramp’ character made his first appearance in the film Kid Auto Races at Venice. That month also saw Christian Dior unveiled the ‘New Look’ that revolutionised women’s dress and re-established Paris as the centre of the fashion world in 1947.
In February 1940, biochemists Martin Kamen and Sam Ruben discovered carbon-14, which is used extensively as the basis of the radiocarbon dating method to date archaeological and geological samples. Another scientific breakthrough also took place in February 1997, when scientists at the Roslin Institute in Scotland announced the birth of Dolly, the first mammal to have been successfully cloned from an adult cell.
And then, it was also a February that revealed our place in the universe when the Voyager 1 space probe took an iconic photograph of Earth in 1990 that became famous as Pale Blue Dot, showing how tiny and insignificant we are in the grander scheme of things. If there’s anything that all the Februaries of the past can teach us, it is that, after all the accumulation of creations and actions, we are but a mere speck in the passage of time. Better make every second count.