The Bill of Rights Institute in Arlington, Va., recently held an essay contest for high school students on the topic: ”What civic value do you believe is most essential to being an American?” Over 50,000 students participated from all 50 states and U.S. territories. The winners and runners-up received cash prizes, with $5,000 awarded to each regional first-place winner. Eagle Publishing was proud to be one of the sponsors. HumanEvents.com will be publishing the top nine winning essays over the next two weeks. This is the sixth showcased essay.
What is it that makes an American, not just in citizenship, but in spirit? Which quality most epitomizes everything that America, as a whole, stands for? During the course of every defining moment in our country’s history, one particular civic value has relentlessly shone through: initiative. As American author Mark Twain once wrote, "The secret of getting ahead is getting started." Indeed, what sets Americans apart is our insatiable drive to resolve, to reform, and to revolutionize both problems we come across and the world we live in.
America’s first major document as an independent nation-The Declaration of Independence-displayed a great deal of initiative. In 1776, confronted by blatant injustice at the hands of the British, it would have been incredibly easy for the colonists to sit back and remain silent. This course of action would have been much easier, in fact, than speaking up and essentially slapping our mother country soundly across the face. However, our founding fathers knew that, despite great internal and external opposition, it was up to them to initiate change. In the face of what appeared to be insurmountable odds, America had the initiative to make a stand. They fiercely declared to the world, "We hold these truths to be self- evident: that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights; that among these are the life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness." This bold statement gained America international respect as a nation that had the courage and initiative to stand up for itself at all costs.
Patrick Henry, a true symbol of the struggle for liberty, exemplifies American initiative. A fiery Patriot and self-made man, Henry is famous for the proclamation, "Give me liberty or give me death!" Truly a Renaissance man, he was a lawyer, an orator, and a key proponent of the American Revolution. Henry ignored social, legal, and political niceties and was one of the first Patriots to throw caution into the wind and publically denounce British atrocities. His hopes to catalyze reform were displayed in his dangerously inflammatory anti-British speeches and his work on the famous Parson’s Case. Even after the Revolution, Henry continued to act as a protector of American civil liberties by carefully keeping track of the infant government. His tireless struggle is still admired today.
In modern society, Americans still display enormous initiative. Though the odds are stacked against us, we continue to try and make the world a better place. Since the seventh grade, I have known that I am going to join the Peace Corps after college. Since its establishment by the American government in the early 1960’s, the Peace Corps has sent over 200,000 volunteers all over the world to assist with international development. These American volunteers all have had the same admittedly cliché but inarguably sincere goal: to achieve that infinitely sought-after "world peace." A true embodiment of the American spirit, this organization is one that I believe is a wonderful example of our country’s initiative. Though many may claim that the troubles of the world are too vast to ever really diminish, it is the American way to press on, to have the initiative to try and to hope regardless of all obstacles. By joining the Peace Corps and working personally on world issues rather than leaving them to others to solve, I hope to make a genuine impact.
Though America is a country of diversity, one quality links us together: initiative. Though this quality is intangible, its implications are anything but. Every American accomplishment, every revolution, every scientific breakthrough, every social reform has been made possible by our uncompromising initiative. It has always been and will always be what sets us apart from the rest of the world; it has always been and will always be what makes our country so great. As stated by Thomas Paine, "We have it in our power to begin the world again." So it is; with hope that never abates and inexorable initiative, Americans will press on and continue to initiate change in the world for years to come.