American Creed essay contest winners took part in a discussion
led by Dr. Robin Lester.
PHS seniors Lauren Hollander and Sean Walsh read their winning essays
at the Holmes Whaley Lake Civic Association on April 27.
Earlier this year, the Pawling Library asked local students to examine a challenging question: “Who gets to be counted as ‘American’ and why?” Inspired by the PBS documentary American Creed, students were challenged to participate in an essay contest and interpret what it truly means to be an American. I had the honor of being selected as the juror to choose the winners of the contest, which proved to be no easy decision. I would like to thank the students who submitted their work, as your words inspired me to reflect on what it truly means to be a citizen of our great country.
The three contest winners, Kaleigh Ainsworth (First Place), Sean Walsh (Second Place), and Lauren Hollander (Third Place) were invited to a reception at the Holmes Whaley Lake Civic Association on April 27. The students read their essays and participated in a discussion with Dr. Robin Lester, author and former headmaster of Trinity School in New York City. The Pawling Record is proud to present the three winning essays for our readers.
As defined by the dictionary, an “American” is “a native or inhabitant of the U.S.: a U.S. citizen.” However, an “American” is much more than just someone who lives in the U.S. To be an American is more than identification papers, and legal work, it is values and drive. It is believing in the core values of the United States, participating in the community, and wanting to be apart of something greater than oneself.
America is a melting pot made up of people from all over the world. Most Americans can trace their lineage to somewhere other than the United States. Over one hundred years ago, Ellis Island was a gateway into America. Thousands of people came from everywhere in hopes of finding this thing called the “American Dream.” These people worked hard, had children, and contributed to society, and from this they deserved to be counted as an American.
Today, an American can be anyone who has come into the country legally, has a desire to gain citizenship and be a contributing member to society. An American is also someone who was born or raised in the U.S. An American can be a person known as a dreamer, who is someone who is born and raised in this country, but their parents were here illegally.
Despite popular opinion, an American can be any race, ethnic group, religion, or culture, and can be from any part of the world. Just because someone is Jewish and from Israel, doesn't mean that they can’t be American. It only matters that they want to be an American and do everything in their power to make that happen. The U.S is a melting pot, and accepts anyone who is willing to try. An American believes in the core values, which are strong work ethic, equality of opportunity, the Constitution, independence, and individualism. Americans believe in the “American Dream,” the opportunity of achieving one’s goals regardless of current circumstances. The saying “it doesn't matter where you come from, it matters where you are going” holds true. Americans believe that, no matter what, when enough hard work and ambition are present, one can achieve great things.
The United States is like a magnet; it attracts the most ambitious and driven people who are willing to go to great lengths to pursue their dreams. Documents, and papers do not make someone an “American” or not. Being American means that someone wants to be apart of something bigger than themselves, because the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. That is what America is, a collection of people who combined together represent strength, ambition, drive, motivation, and hope.
To be American means to be more than just an American citizen. To be American means to align oneself with the American ideology. In a way, anyone can be counted as American through the right point of view. Race, gender, and beliefs are all inconsequential when considering the big picture of American identity. Anyone who believes in freedom and equality can be counted as American because they follow the American ideology.
As stated in the Pledge of Allegiance, liberty and justice for all is an essential component of the American identity. When the Founding Fathers drafted the Constitution in 1787, one of its primary purposes was to establish a government that differentiated from the British monarchy. Freedom consistently remained an underlying message in the body of the Constitution and the amendments that followed because the American people had experienced what it’s like to have limited freedom. Tyrannical oppression created unjust circumstances in the original colonies, and Americans were deathly afraid of reliving those experiences. That’s why civil liberties such as freedom of speech, of the press, and of religion were established. American people have the choice to do, believe in, and practice whatever they want as long as it doesn’t harm others in society. To be an American means to follow this idea and support the preservation of others’ freedom.
As the United States has evolved over the past several hundred years, so has its concept of equality. Originally, equality encompassed white American landowners, and no one else. Not very equal. However, over time the definition of equality gradually expanded. African Americans, women, Asians, Hispanics, and everyone else in between have slowly made their way into the American community. There are still countless struggles between modern society and true equality, but the train of progress is still chugging along. Anyone can be counted as American if they live with others unlike them and accept the concept of the United States as an amalgamation of rich cultures and complex pasts. The United States may have been built on inequality, but as more and more people recognize the wrongs of the past and attempt to make amends, our nation is becoming a more wholly equal community. People deserve to live free without the worries of racism, bigotry, and discrimination, and if enough Americans embrace these ideas then the United States will become this haven. To be American means to reinforce the concept of equality by supporting the growth of the nation as a whole.
Like many other words, “American” is a made up noise we use to broadly identify a concept. However, the rich meaning and history that we associate with the term allows us to convey a sense of purpose through a single word. Only together will we prevail. The United States is meant to embody the best of what we can be. Let us be the harbingers of freedom and equality to the world to define a new era of prosperity for the human race.
America has always been and still remains the land of the free and the home of the brave. It has stood the test of time, being a melting pot for different cultures, religions, ideals, backgrounds and peoples. This country is known as the land of opportunities, where you can become whomever you choose, do whatever you choose and you can live out the “American Dream.”
The American Dream is the idea that no matter where you come from, what your income is, what your beliefs are or what ethnicity you are, everyone is given the equal opportunity to achieve any and all of their hopes and aspirations. People who are, and who have become, American citizens, who have served America and who have remained loyal to the country are those who are defined as Americans because in one way or another, they have upheld what America stands for – life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
The basic understanding of being American is someone who is a citizen of the United States of America and who upholds the ideals and beliefs set forth in the Constitution and in the Declaration of Independence. In being American, there is a shared sense of personal struggle, determination and an idea that there is this “creed” or civic religion that holds us all together.
Americans may have differing opinions, but there is also a commonality: hope. Whether this hope is for themselves, their families, the people around them or their country, this truly unites Americans and is at the heart of what America was founded on. What constitutes someone as an American is more than just being a citizen of the country; it runs deep into the fabric of who they are. For some, being a resident of America is all they need to define themselves but, for others, it means to be a part of a greater community that is filled with diversity, enrichment and opportunities. Being American can mean “a promise that isn’t always fulfilled” (David M. Kennedy) but is always possible. Americanism is not an ethnicity but rather a way of life and it means to rise above opposition and adversity. It means to be apart of a collective group that strives for better.
For many Americans, they are so fixated on the future that they forget the path that has guided them to where they are now. Therefore, they become disconnected from their past which is what can lead them to their future. In order to achieve people’s aspirations and their “American Dream” they must connect where they’re from to where they’re going. There has been a rise of individualism in America, but it is vital for Americans to not only care about themselves but also the collective whole. If you’re an American, faith, family, freedom, community and equal opportunities matter to you. In America, it is up to you to forge your own path and your own American identity.