2011 SECOND PLACE ESSAY

by Dora Juhasz, Age 14
Submitting Teacher: Todd Manns


On a hot July night, in the year 1969, a little four-year-old boy in a remote Hungarian town watched the grainy images of a black and white television in awe. He was one of millions who witnessed perhaps the most memorable moment in the twentieth century, as the first man, an American astronaut, set his foot on the surface of the moon. This was the first time the boy heard about a place called America. In that moment, he decided he wanted to become an astronaut as an adult. This boy was my father, and he is not an astronaut. Growing up, he soon learned that he could not pursue his dream, largely because he lived in a country where opportunities we are taking for granted in America did not exist. By the time he moved here, it was too late for him, but he gave my brother and me the gift to take advantage of all the opportunities the American society offers to us. After watching the Stossel video on What's Great About America, it's now clear to me what was missing from my father's life as a child that made it impossible to fulfill his early dreams. Out of all the things that America lets us do, the two most important to me are the ability to prosper in career and business and make great inventions, even if we fail at first; and also the chance to speak freely and the opportunity to change society for the better without any negative consequences.

First of all, America is a country that gives us countless options on how to thrive in our careers and businesses. Here, in this nation, we do not accept failure, because we are given the chance to keep trying and continue to build and reach our goals. In countries such as the one my father grew up, this did not exist. People were tied down to their limitations, and no matter how intelligent they were, they could not carry out and build upon many of their ideas, unless they decided to leave their land behind and move to other places. In America, nothing is impossible, and the Stossel video does a good job of explaining this, with specific examples of entrepreneurs, who kept trying until they reached their goals. Thousands of people have failed multiple times before getting to the point they wanted to be at; including such seemingly impossible places such as the Moon. Many people at many places on Earth have great ideas, but no other society gives them better chances to convert those ideas reality. Ten Hungarian scientists have won the Nobel Prize, a big feat for a small country, but most of them did it only after working in America. My father, along with thousands of others, did not have the chance to focus on what they really wanted accomplish in their early lives, until they arrived and immigrated to their new homeland, the United States.

Second of all, in America we have the chance to speak freely and change society for the better without any negative consequences. As my dad grew up, he slowly realized that things were not going well in his country. Strict limits and barriers were set up at every stage of his life, but he had no chance to change things around him. He was a good citizen only as long as he did not try to challenge the political system or introduce new ideas. His country, along with most other states in the world did not have a unique written law, such as the first amendment of the U.S. Constitution, that guarantees our right to freedom of speech. Even if we are wrong, we can still express our views without fear, as we realize that even bad ideas can generate useful discussions about our society and government. We are actually encouraged to speak up and voice our opinions, as can anyone else, even if these views may hurt each other's feelings or disagree with our leaders. We understand how this can help the government to construct better laws that are beneficial to most of us. America is always up for change, and people are always giving their two cents on ideas throughout the country. Growing up here this seems to be self-evident—until we learn that this is not the case in most other places even today.

With all this freedom and opportunity, will anyone in my family ever become an astronaut? It may happen, but more importantly, we can find thousands of new ways, that we cannot even imagine right now, on the way of our quest to make the best of ourselves and our future. That's why my father is not disappointed after all. He knows that his children and grandchildren can become astronauts, football players, marine biologists, or anything they would ever set their mind to. America will empower them with free speech, plenty of opportunities and a free spirit to try new things that will lead them beyond my dad's wildest imagination. This country will not hold anyone back, and that's the greatest gift a society can offer. Not only to world-class scientists or astronauts but also to everyday people who are lucky enough to live here.