2001 TLI Scholarship Essay:
What America Means to Me
Third Prize Winner: Jackeline Stewart,
Preston High School
In August 1987 my plane touched down in New York's Kennedy Airport. From that moment on, I was an American. My parents made the decision to leave Panama because they wanted a new life. My father's job on the Panama Canal was ending. Therefore he and my mother took advantage of this opportunity to start over and move to New York. Like many immigrants, my family worked hard to become established citizens of this great country. Because of this, I am able to benefit from the work they put in. In the fourteen years that this country has been my home, I have been privileged to receive quality education, meet people from many different backgrounds and walks of life, and dream of the promising future that lies before me. Being a Panamanian immigrant, America is my "home away from home." Although I will never forget where I come from, I am proud to say that I live in the United States of America. America is not only the symbol of, but is indeed, freedom. The democracy that this country stands for is a testament to this. In few other areas in the world are people allowed to express themselves freely, play an active role in government, and attain any economic or personal goal they aspire to obtain, regardless of political, economic or racial status. In America, one does not need to be part of any particular social class or to be born into wealth in order to be an important part of society or to be entitled to their rights. This nation prides itself on the opinions, choices and ambitions of its people without concern for status.
America is a country of liberty. Freedom of speech, freedom of expression, and the freedom to have a say in government are rights that protect this nation's citizens from the dangers that many others encounter in some other parts of the world. Americans do not have to worry about being persecuted for their religious beliefs, their political stands, or their personal opinions. The concept of democracy is one that defines this country. America was founded on the desire for independence. Freedom is imbedded in the very soul of its people.
America is the paradigm for the free world. Not only do this country's laws reflect its strong principle of democracy, but the opportunity of its citizens also speaks to this notion. In America, with hard work and determination, a person who has been raised in squalor has the opportunity to become anything they aspire to be. Ford, Carnegie, Rockefeller, and Madame CJ Walker prove that once one decides to work to be successful and sets goals, there are no limits to making the quintessential "American Dream" come true. The ability not only to dream but to also make those fantasies become a reality is an inspiring quality of America. As an American, I am entitled to an education and the opportunity to use that education to better serve society and to make a comfortable life for myself. I, like many other Americans, appreciate the right to pursue any aspiration I am willing to work towards.
The American experience is one matched by no other. Although America is a strong, united nation, it is by no means an unvarying block. America is characterized by the vast diversity of its citizens. There are as many different religions and races in America as there are people. Hardly any two pedestrians walking down one street in this country can claim to have the exact same background and share the same faith. In only one school, one may find students from countries such as Puerto Rico, Ghana, Trinidad, Guyana, Jamaica, Italy, and Ireland; each able to maintain their own culture while living in the came country. This proves that America is not so much a melting pot as it is a salad - one with many ingredients in one bowl, yet each element remaining distinct and keeping its own flavor.
America is Americans. A country is nothing without its people; therefore a great nation must be composed of great people - people with fearless spirits, people with undying passion, and people who believe in unity. No instance has better exemplified the epitome of America's people than their reactions to the tragedy that occurred on September 11, 2001. On this unforgettable Tuesday, New York, Washington, DC and Pennsylvania, were targets of horrific terrorist attacks. The sight of people covered in soot running for their lives, from the collapsing Twin Towers of the World Trade Center will forever be ingrained in my memory. Although these painful images will never be forgotten, the hope for an even stronger America will never falter. Instead of giving into fear and completely detaching from the situation, Americans banded together and decided that they would face the struggle and overcome it by working together. For example, when it was announced that volunteers were needed for the relief effort at Ground Zero in New York, the response was so overwhelming that organizers had no choice but to turn away compassionate people who came from all over the country, some from as far away as Georgia. Because of this, and the heroic efforts of New York's fire and police departments, Ground Zero is now coined "Ground Hero." Americans also prayed for one another despite personal religious beliefs, regardless of whether they were directly affected by the catastrophes that occurred in Washington, DC, New York, or Pennsylvania. The spirit that gave Americans the courage to rise from this great adversity is the same spirit that established the democracy in this country over two hundred years ago. The bravery of those Americans who fought for this nation's independence in the late eighteenth century is the valiant character present in Americans today. America is unique. America's great diversity allows for the constant exchange of different beliefs and ideas, enhancing the richness of American culture. There is no one definition of "American"; in fact America is all. America is the Korean grocery-store owner; America is the Chinese professor; America is the Nigerian doctor; America is the French chef; America is the Italian car salesman. America is my father, the Panamanian carpenter. America is my mother, the Panamanian businesswoman. America is you. I am America.