The United States of America is unique among other countries in the world because it puts forth a society based upon the principles of human freedom. Individual freedom is the foundation of our government, and although, as Americans, we may disagree about many social issues, it is our core belief in freedom that often unites us.
The history books tell us our forefathers intended the American ideal of freedom to shine like a beacon through every corner of the world, illuminating those homelands where human rights were suppressed and abused. We were designed to be a country where the government was controlled by its people — not the other way around. America was meant to be perfect, and guarantee freedom for everyone.
From our vantage point in 2013, we can look back and see that freedom in America has been in a constant state of progression and evolution since the early days of our society. The Civil War, the Women’s Movement in the early 1890s, the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s — all represent key turning points in our history when people have fought (and died) for change. These changes have often been turbulent and violent — as each generation of Americans has been given the opportunity to define, shape and defend our freedom.
Even today, there are still many examples where individuals and groups are fighting for freedoms. Gun control, immigration, same sex marriage — each of these issues, though often divisive, still represent the right of Americans (and those who want to be Americans) to fight for and claim new boundaries of freedom. Freedom for Americans is not something we are entitled to by birth — it is something we must continuously protect and challenge.
Even though I was a little girl, I still remember where I was on 9/11. I remember feeling scared and helpless, and wondering if my life would change forever. I had some of those feelings when the bombings in Boston happened, killing and injuring so many innocent people. I was reminded once again that there are people in the world who despise the freedoms that our society offers. These people want to hurt us, even kill us — but mostly, they want to make us live in fear.
These terrorists fail to understand that each strike against us only serves to strengthen and unite us. Instead of causing us to cower in fear, these attacks bring out the best in us as Americans. We are accustomed to fighting for our way of life. Although we might take it for granted sometimes, the passion to guard our freedom is always with us.
I am proud and honored to live in a country that allows me the opportunity to pursue my dreams, and live the life that I choose. I can travel where I want, study where I want, wear what I want, and worship what I want. I can fight for the things I believe in, and not worry about persecution and imprisonment. I can challenge my government, and cherish it at the same time.
I am proud of my country, even with our troubles, and I honor those from each generation who have fought and died to defend it.
My name is Avery Reagan, and this is what freedom means to me.
Avery Reagan is a 2013 Salem High School graduate. Her essay, “What Freedom Means to Me,” won the $5,000 Diego Rincon Scholarship from the Rehorn Family Foundation.