WEST MILFORD, N. J. -- West Milford High School student Megan Hogan won first place in the VFW Voice of Democracy essay contest with her essay "My Vision for America."
When I envision America, I think of the history, the philosophies, the symbols, and the political papers that have come to define what it means to be an American; things that encompass the true American identity.
I visualize large flags of brilliant blue, white, and red hues; I picture the soldiers lifting the flag at Iwo Jima; I envision Thomas Paine’s Common Sense strewn across an aged copy of the Declaration of Independence; I see our Founding Fathers fervently debating and composing the amendments that would dictate our country’s governmental policy for the next 239 years; I even visualize a hamburger-the dish that has come to be, unquestionably, the quintessential American meal.
But the America I envision is not the America I live in. The political debates and compromises of the 1700s have morphed into bloody stalemates. Students find Paine’s Common Sense nonsensical. Our diverse ethnicities have divided us; the American unification of different peoples has been torn apart by racism, prejudice, and discrimination.
Only 57.5% of Americans exercised their 15th Amendment rights in 2012, and today, protests to protect those same rights are thought to be unnecessarily disruptive. The America I envision is united, strong and unwavering in the face of prejudice. It’s intelligent. It’s informed. It takes full advantage of rights it has been given. It is the most powerful nation on the planet.
In 1858, Abraham Lincoln delivered an address that contained a timeless truth; “A house divided against itself cannot stand”. Our current America is divided politically, socially, religiously, and culturally. We have warring political parties. Our citizens have ancestries from every country on the Earth. We have different opinions, different religions, different languages, different cultures; America is so divided it’s a wonder that we are still collectively one. But we are one.
We are not Black America. We are not White America. We are not Asian America, or European America, or African America; we are not Republican America or Democratic America; we are not Christian America or Jewish America or Buddhist America or Islamic America; we are the United States of America. Our country needs to become united; we need to be bound together, inextricably tied to one another by the rights so carefully composed by our Founding Fathers.
The America I envision does not discriminate. It is tolerant. It is generous. In the America I envision, you do not have to be rich to achieve your potential. Your name or your skin tone or your religion or your sexual orientation or your gender identity is not a barrier to your success. It is a characteristic, but it is not a characteristic that defines who you are and what you can do.
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