2001 TLI Scholarship Essay:
What America Means to Me
Honorable Mention: Kelly Brannan,
West Milford High School
Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe, to assure the survival and the success of liberty. This much we pledge - and more.
When I sit back and really think about what America means to me, I don't think togetherness, patriotism, or success. I think rather on a more material level. I think apple pie, a calm boat ride on the 4th of July, and a school where we are allowed to stand every morning and pledge to a symbol of America, a symbol of our freedom. Along with many Americans, I think I tend to bury America's true meaning in the hustle and bustle of my everyday life. I know subconsciously that if it weren't for the men and women who have fought for us throughout the years, we wouldn't be the Americans we are today. However, I don't ever thank them or tell them that I am proud of them. I rather sit back and hope that they know my great thanks for them. I often wonder if I put the material things too far in front of the true meaning of America. Then I think for a while. Without these material things, would America still be the same?
While I was in Europe last spring, people recognized me as an American. They didn't criticize my country. They instead admired my heritage and envied me for where I lived. They were proud to know an American. On that trip, I learned many things. What impacted my daily routine most wasn't that I had seen the Tower of London or been to Edinburgh Castle, but my newly appreciated pride in being American. I was appreciated while I was in Europe and realized that I should have more pride in who I am. I am an American.
Still, when I was asked what America meant to me I answered: apple pie, college football, and good American barbeques. But I'm not sure, deep down, of my true feeling at all. Now six months after my trip and my newly developed pride in my country, I am faced with yet another twist in the road to finding the true meaning of America. However, I think that this time I am closer to finding it than ever before.
After the tragic events of the attack on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, I am looking deeper into America. America is beginning to seem less focused on the material items and more on our nation's emotions. All of the things that seemed not to matter much before are now the things, in my mind, which make America what it is. Maybe my European friends saw something I was overlooking. They saw the pride before I knew it existed.
I have always thought of America as "untouchable" and "indestructible." While I was watching the news after the World Trade Center had been hit, it brought tears to my eyes as I read the headline, "Attack on America." I thought, "how could someone attack America? What were they thinking? Why didn't we know and see it coming?" All Americans learned that day that America isn't untouchable. It scared us. Patriotism for the first time in my life had become a priority in daily routine. The flags that I saw all over cars, houses, and businesses gave me a new understanding of America. For once, I understood that America could pull together and act as one. No one person was better than the next. It seemed for one day that we were all equal. We were all Americans just trying to deal with our grief.
The picture of the troops raising the flag at Iwo Jima was always moving. It always made me proud. But for some reason, the picture of the rescue workers raising the flag in the rubble of the trade center moves me even more. America has become something new for me. I can't say that it's never been before, but finally it has come to the surface for me that America is an amazing place. It's a place where people are generous, caring, ambitious, successful, and free. America is a place where people care. They care less about themselves and more about other people. So finally after searching for the true meaning of America, I no longer come up blank or lost for words. I can honestly say that America can be described through pride - pride in who we are, what we want, what we get, and what our nation has become. I am honored and proud to say that I am an American.