2011 FOURTH PLACE ESSAY
by Spencer Kolssak, Age 14
Submitting Teacher: Hillary Kolssak
Grandfather sat in his armchair, his arms folded, a kind expression upon his countenance. The firelight stretched across the floor, adding warmth to the room. David had to submit his entry to the competition soon, but he needed some advice. Naturally he came to his grandfather, an immigrant from Poland, as he seemed to know a great deal about America. Earlier they had watched the contest video together, and now sat in the living room to discuss it.
"Do you have any idea how I should do this?" David asked.
"Ah, yes," Grandfather replied, stroking his beard. "America is a great country. It has many good opportunities and freedoms, no? That man Stossel seemed to say it very well."
"Yes, but what do you think of what he said? What do you think of America?"
"Grandson, I don't know if you will ever really understand, but maybe I can help you," Grandfather said, leaning forward. "I came to America from Poland because life was so hard there. I tried making a business. I worked so hard, but made so little money. I had no freedoms; the Soviets ruled us harshly. They took our money, our land, stole our freedom… they would not stop. So what could I do? I decided to leave and come to the land called America, said to be rich in freedom and opportunity. In America, I thought I might be able to get a full meal for once." Tears welled up in his eyes. "I love America, grandson, more than you will ever know. Here I had a chance, a chance to decide what to do with my life, not to be oppressed by a government. America is a great country."
"But Grandpa," David replied, "What about today? I don't think people like America. They say it's failing, it's not a good place to do business, so why do you think it's so great?"
He sighed, looking David in the eyes, "Why would you ask a question like that? Your video seemed to deal with it well. Even if people think America is a place of economic downfall, it is not true. When I came here, I was surprised to find that it was easy to start a business. The government doesn't have many rules against business. In fact, in America everyone has the opportunity to be somebody. Anyone here can start a business and try to make money from it, no matter how much they fail. They can do so without repression from their government. Anyone here can have a chance; anyone can write their own future. I came to America and instead of starving, I was able to start a business, raise my family, and have enough to give to my grandchildren."
David listened intently, scribbling notes in his notebook. "But people also say America does not have many opportunities for those of other races. Some people call America racist. They say that America likes to discriminate between different groups of people. How can America be great then?"
Grandfather stared into the glowing blaze of the fire. "Again, my David, your video said it well. It showed how people today don't care what race others are, that people of different skin colors are dating and marrying and becoming friends more than ever. What people say about America being racist is not true. America treats all people the same no matter what they look like. Look at me- I don't look or sound like your everyday American, I'm all Polish. But I came to America and look at me now. Before I came here I wouldn't earn much, but I came to America and was accepted, even though I was foreign. I was able to find work and have a family, and was given you, my marvelous grandson." He smiled.
David felt compassion for his grandfather, having never heard his tale before, but he had one final question. "Grandfather, one more thing. People also hate the American military. They stage protests, calling the military imperial and oppressive, saying it is too large and only does harm. Is this true? Does this mean America is not great?"
Grandfather almost laughed, a smile forming on his lips as he leaned back in his chair. "Yes, this was also in your video. But is it true? Nonsense! I would think the video would have taught you about the American military. But I can teach you my own ideas. When I was living in Poland, I saw the Soviet military up close, and I tell you they are nothing like the Americans. The Soviet Army invaded countries, yes, but what did they want? What did they do after invading? They hurt people and took the country for themselves, adding it to the Soviet Empire. But America is different. Our military enters other countries, yes, but what does America want? What they do, I tell you, is help other countries, and give aid to the people even when they are fighting the enemy army. They want to help the world and promote freedom and democracy, and care for those in need. That is what the military is all about. It makes this nation great."
David nodded his head; grandfather was right. Grandfather had personally experienced what it was like to live under oppression. If anyone had a reason to believe that America was a great nation, he did. As David wrote the last of his words in his notebook, he smiled, having gained not only ideas for his entry but stories from his beloved grandfather.
Grandfather spoke up once more. "I hope I helped you with your essay. But, remember this; America is a nation of freedom and opportunity that wants to protect the rights of all people. America is great because of all these things, yes, but as Alexis de Tocqueville said, "America is great because America is good, and if America ceases to be good, America will cease to be great."