Monday, January 01, 2007

The Challenge of American Citizenship

During my junior year in high school, my drama teacher mentioned in passing that there was a speechwriting contest that I should enter. Basically, I had to write an essay, record it, and send it off. I said, ok...sure. A few months later I found out that my speech had captured first prize in the state and I was being flown to a recognition ceremony in Washington, DC for the national competition.

I'm sorry...I did what, exactly?

As part of my massive clean-out project this week (which has now reached epic proportions...if no one wants the house, it won't be because they can't see the closets), I just found my memorabilia from my trip to DC as the Kentucky representative of the Veterans of Foreign Wars Voice of Democracy Program. The text of the speech was actually read into the Congressional Record after the fact (so if you happen to be perusing the Congressional Record from 1987, be on the lookout for me...woohoo!).

What is interesting to me, though, is the text of the script. It's mildly entertaining from a political standpoint (we weren't at war in 1987)...and embarassing from a who-did-I-think-I-was standpoint (construction work, by the way, is a fine profession)...but more notable is the fact that I can see the markings of my writing style. Apparently my affinity for alliteration has persisted for the past 20 years. People sometimes ask if my writing is organic or by some laborious process. I always answer the former...and realizing how much I sound like me in this piece -- written 20 years ago -- I think I've been giving the right answer.

To mark the new year...I give you the idealistic words of my sixteen year old self...unedited for full melodramatic effect.

The Challenge of American Citizenship

Ah America! Land of the free, home of the brave! A country of purple mountains, fields of wheat, and subcultures as variant as the stars. We have the honor and privilege to live in this great country of freedom and democracy -- a country respected and idolized throughout the world. We have the singular honor of being called U.S. Citizens.

But just what does being a United States citizen mean? Some would say "It means being honored and envied by people in less fortunate countries." Others might reply, "It means being born an American. You know, living here, pledging allegiance to the flag, and voting in elections." But being a citizen entails so much more.

Pledging allegiance to the flag, for example, is a serious commitment. It is more than a boring recitation that everyone memorizes in the 5th grade. The pledge of allegiance says, in essence, "I will stand up for my country through thick and thin, and I know that though we are many factions of individuals, we are all united under God's watchful eye and with his support, we cannot fail in our endeavors." The flag is our trademark. It tells the world that America stands for "liberty and justice for all." This equality, however, can only last through our preservation of it. In order to "secure the blessings of liberty for ourselves and our posterity," we must each take our citizenship very seriously. American citizenship is more than honored grandeur, it is a contract that is valid from tenderest infancy to the dark shadows of death. This contract of citizenship requires each man, woman, and child to be committed to the purpose of serving their country. Every citizen must find a way to become a part of America's future -- it is not an option, but a burden of the conscious that reason and rhetoric cannot alleviate. Society has provided a position of service for all. Teachers instill the responsibility of citizenship into the young, lawyers protect the good and see that the bad are rightly reprimanded, even construction workers serve our country by altering and enhancing its appearance. The opportunities exist...the question is, "Will Americans uphold their contract of citizenship?"

The time has come for the people of the United States to wake up and realize what they are taking for granted. We are a fortunate people, but there is no guarantee that we will remain that way. We live in peace, yet the threat of war lurks about our doorstep. The time for apathy has passed. We must prepare this generation and the generations to come for the future. We simply cannot let the responsibilities of American citizenship rot and decay in a flag on the wall of the schoolroom. We must each uphold our duties as loyal residents of the U.S.

How can we sit back on election day and let someone else make decisions for us? The government exists to serve us and we, in turn, must serve it. The burden lies on our shoulders to elect responsible leaders -- leaders who will make decisions that effect not only us, but our children as well. The leaders we elect today could determine whether or not our country stays out of war. It is the duty of each of us to see that the people in power serve the country before themselves. We determine the fate of our nation -- we must not let it die.

American citizenship is indeed an honor -- an honor that we too often take for granted -- an honor that will perish unless we begin working today to preserve it. We've never been promised tomorrow. American citizenship is more than mere glory; it is a challenge.

Will you meet this challenge? Will you uphold your contract as a citizen, or will you sit back and apathetically watch our respected nation turn to dust? The choice is ours. Don't let 210 years of work die away into nothingness because you wouldn't do your part and accept the true challenge of American citizenship.

[imaginary music fades]
[fade to black]

Heh. I always did have a sense of theater.

Happy New Year...from the sixteen year old me and the thirty-six year old me!


towwas said...

Happy new year!!!

towwas said...

Several years ago I came across a paper I'd written in high school. It was for an astronomy class - we had the option of writing some kind of fiction thing, I think. So I did. And it was the funniest thing I've ever read. I was like, dang - I'm funny. So I guess I, too, have always written like this, and have always been funny, too. (Well, I suppose it's open to debate whether I'm actually funny now, but I try to be, anyway.)

BASSO said...

Happy New Year and Wow! Even construction workers would love to read this, even while enhancing and such.... I loved it, it IS you.