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The following essay is the Colorado state winner for the Voice of Democracy essay contest. Shane Baumgardner of Colorado Springs, Colo., won a $1,000 scholarship.“Does My Generation Have a Role in America’s Future?”
There comes a time in the life of any generation when its members are forced to ask the simple question, “why?”
Why are they there? Why is this happening? This question usually comes at the lowest low, when all hope seems lost, the challenges they face seem insurmountable. Often it is only when they are faced with those challenges, and forced to ask that question, that they find the strength, the courage and the ability to be truly great. And it’s because of this that I believe that my generation has a role to play in the future of America. And not just any role, I believe we will be faced with incredible challenges, we will find our courage and our leaders and we will overcome those challenges.
Today, we are inundated with commentators, experts and the like barraging us with statistics that show us that this generation will be a failure. Our math scores are too low, our drug use too high. Our challenges are too great and our will too small. We’re self-centered, lazy and lack the basic understanding of what it means to be an American. And yet that leaves me wondering how this generation is different than any other that we have seen throughout the history of our nation? After all, the minutemen who overcame impossible odds to win the Revolution didn’t exactly have the greatest math scores in the world, or they would have done some quick statistical work and laid down their arms. Admittedly, at first glance, this generation is self-centered. But consider this, what generation of young people is not self-centered? Do you think that the revolutionaries wanted to spend the prime of their lives in a war against impossible odds? No, in fact I would hazard a guess that their dreams were little different than ours. They wanted to get an education, a good paying job and find someone to settle down with. You see challenges unite us, force us to reassess and come together. And there is no doubt that this generation will face the challenges of divisive politics, an unstable world and a mounting national debt. Those are the challenges that will unite us, that will cause us to display the selflessness no one seems to think we are capable of.
A defining factor in the strength of our previous generations is one that no expert seems to pay attention to and no statistic can measure. It is the heart of an American, and a leader that will bring that heart out. It was that heart that emerged when the baby-boomer generation looked evil in the eye and didn’t blink until the Soviet Union collapsed. And yet it had only been a decade before when President Jimmy Carter had proclaimed that America faced a “crisis of confidence.” He was right; we did face a crisis of confidence. A crisis that was overcome by an inspiring leader who refused to budge one inch. Who told us that we were indeed looking at the face of evil and that we had to win, not that it would be nice to overcome this challenge, but that we had to overcome it. It was the turning point in a generation. I believe without a doubt that in the moment of crisis, when our need is the greatest, my generation will also find that leader and that courage.
Last of all I believe that we will overcome the challenges that we are presented with. My great-grandfather was a member of the greatest generation. He lived through the Great Depression and wanted nothing more than to settle down with his family and live in peace. But the world had different ideas. Before he knew it he was fighting in the Pacific, fighting evil itself. The heart of that generation, their spirit, their unbelievable will, that’s what makes us remember them and honor them. But I believe that same heart, that same spirit, same courage resides in me that was in my great-grandfather. That the lessons I’ve learned from his story have showed me that within each of us is the will and the strength and the courage to be great Americans. I’ve seen it in the young men and women who dropped out of Ivy League to fight a war in the desert that many people said simply wasn’t worth fighting. You see my generation still has that heart, we have that courage and that selflessness. The role my generation must play will be defined by the same spirit and heart that has been in the generations before us and we will overcome the challenges we face.
In conclusion, we will be faced with challenges, find our leader and overcome them. We still have to answer the question “why?” But I believe without a shadow of a doubt in my mind that we will play a good role, even a great role. I don’t doubt that because I can’t doubt that. The same way that the men who landed at Normandy couldn’t doubt that the brother standing next to them would fight, bleed and die for his country. Just like the soldiers in Korea couldn’t doubt that they were standing in the gap to prevent evil from spreading. Just like the soldiers in Vietnam couldn’t doubt that they were doing the right thing, even when everyone else said it was a waste. I can’t doubt the role that my generation has to play because when you doubt yourself, you just might live up to your own expectations.