What does patriotism mean to you? Winning essays from Eagle County high school graduates
Editor’s note: Each year, graduating high school seniors in Eagle County can apply for a scholarship from the VFW Post in Minturn by writing an essay on patriotism. The Vail Daily is running a sampling of essays, with permission from the authors, ahead of the July 4 holiday.
Davis Krueger, Battle Mountain High School
When most people think about patriotism, they think of popping off fireworks while wearing their American flag T-shirts and enjoying a hot dog straight off the grill on the Fourth of July. To me, patriotism is embodied by one word, service. To serve, you must be devoted and have vigorous support for one’s country, in alliance with other citizens who share the same passion to serve.
Patriotic service can come in many forms, not just serving your country in the military. It can come in the form of serving your country or community through efforts to improve the lives of those around you. The efforts of either should not be placed above one another as they are both equally important to the proper functioning and safety of the country.
While serving the country you love through the armed forces, you will be protecting the place you love from both foreign and domestic threats. When you serve your community, you are improving the lives of those around you from the ground up for the purpose of making your country a better place. However, to serve patriotically, one must put others above himself, be devoted, and know the value of alliance. If one is self-centered, usually he will not be interested in the success of those around them.
It takes a special person to put the pursuits of himself behind those of the rest of the population, to delay one’s life for the greater good. Many patriots spend their lives behind enemy lines abroad assuring the international safety of all. Other patriots, who may not wear a uniform, still devote their lives to programs across the country that maintain wellbeing. Health care workers, food bank employees, emergency service responders, mothers, fathers, teachers, government workers, and many more people. These patriots all have devotion to the success of their nation. This undertaking cannot be done alone.
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Propping the entire nation upon stilts of success requires collaboration and alliance. Regular citizens working with the government, innocent civilians working with the armed forces, and the fortunate helping the needy. This community of selfless, devoted, and allied patriots described is the primary reason that the United States and other countries around the world are functioning. This is what patriotism means to me.
Caroline Glynn Dewell, Eagle Valley High School
“A singer’s breath comes from the soul,” my teacher’s voice echoes in my mind. Singing properly is a combination of control, focus, and breath. But singing loses its value when the quality of sound is the primary goal. Singing should communicate stories and stir emotions. An effective singer must comprehend why she is singing and convey the song’s significance. A meaningful song demands the communication of the music’s essential message. When I sing, I sing from my soul.
When I sing the national anthem for veterans standing before me, I sing with deep reverence and respect for both our beloved veterans and for our country. I focus on their love of our nation. When they salute the flag or place their hands over their hearts, I imagine what patriotism might mean to them. I contemplate the oath they swore to their country, probably when they were not much older than I am now, which included possibly making the ultimate sacrifice. What a gift their service was to our nation. I reflect that, tragically, countless veterans lost beloved friends during their tours of duty and so, for veterans, the national anthem must call to mind excruciating experiences, devastating losses, cherished memories, and a camaraderie that civilians can never comprehend. I hold space in my heart for all of those powerful emotions as I prepare to sing, so that I may honor veterans in the way they should be revered.
As I inhale, I reflect on what patriotism means to me. When I was blessed to visit France several years ago, patriotism emanated from rows of perfectly parallel marble crosses and Stars of David at the Normandy American Cemetery overlooking Omaha beach’s fabled sands. My mother attended school in France for a semester so three years ago, when she found impossibly-low roundtrip fares to Paris, she said “we have to go!” as she wanted to share the country in which my aunt and she attended a semester in college. When my parents insisted that our family needed to pay our respects to fallen American soldiers in Normandy, I didn’t know what to expect.
The seemingly infinite graves overlooking the English Channel, the solemn, serene memorial before me juxtaposed with the historical landing and battle which occurred 76 years prior, was incomprehensible. Americans, about my age, disembarked from Higgins boats, encumbered with gear heavy enough to drown some GIs. American soldiers raced through the sea into a hail of machine-gun fire from fortified cliffs, as bullets maimed them and killed their friends. Yet these dauntless heroes battled impossibly forward despite their unimaginable terror. My parents asked us to take off our shoes, to feel the sand where so much American blood was shed in the name of freedom, in a solemn moment to mourn those who died to preserve democracy. Although mom’s request seemed a little odd, it seemed a fitting way to commune with the young Americans who never were to return home. I sing the national anthem with the countless brave men who valiantly fought, advancing on that beach despite death’s inevitability, in my mind, knowing this song is for them. I sing to honor all of our nation’s veterans who answered America’s call.
Patriotism means my favorite teacher, Mr. Walt Knight, a veteran, who, before dedicating his life to students, dedicated it to our country. In class one day, he pulled a $2 bill from his wallet, a talisman from his service in Honduras. Relaxing with two fellow servicemen at a bar once off-duty, the bartender had never seen a $2 bill and wouldn’t accept it to pay for the beer. Despite Mr. Knight’s insistence that the bill was legitimate, the bartender refused to accept the currency so Mr. Knight left his buddies and walked across the street to exchange his two-dollar bill for two one-dollar bills. As Mr. Knight reached the other side of the street, the bar exploded, leaving his two friends in the ashes. Mr. Knight carries that $2 bill in his wallet every day as a reminder of his friends’ sacrifice. Patriotism means losing the people we love, saying unexpected goodbyes, and continuing through tragedy for the benefit of our nation. And patriotism means finding continued ways to serve beyond the battlefield, like Mr. Knight’s exemplary teaching.
Patriotism means I have the freedom to sing to a crowd of veterans. I live a safe, wonderful existence because, through the efforts of every military branch, from the Marines who are the first line of safety, to the Army, who battle on land, to the Navy who protect the seas, the Air Force who protect the skies, and the Coast Guard, who protect the water, my safety and freedom are ensured thanks to their sacrifice during times of war and peace. Men and women risk their safety for the preservation of daily life in the U.S.A., sacrificing their lives so we don’t have to change ours. Patriotism means bravery, valor, strength, sacrifice, duty, perseverance, and a dedication to others, protecting everyone on American soil and abroad, from strangers to loved ones. Patriotism means standing up for those who need help. Patriotism means the veterans who continue to sacrifice, long after their service, whether it’s caring for veterans with PTSD from their tours, providing healing experiences for Wounded Warriors or speaking at local schools every year to help students understand patriotism, despite the deep wounds talking about their service sometimes rips open. Patriotism means loving this country and understanding that there is no greater nation on Earth. Patriotism is the best of what being American is. It’s selflessness, it’s pure love, and it’s forever. I hope you continue to ask me to sing the national anthem for your incredible group as it’s one of my life’s great privileges to serve you in this small way as I learn more from you than I can articulate.
Riley Dudley, Eagle Valley High School
In times like these more than ever, it is critical to understand the importance of sacrifice for the greater good of our community. We are currently facing a national crisis on an unprecedented scale that threatens our core ideals of liberty, freedom, and safety. We have been asked to give up our livelihoods and put our futures on hold in order to ensure that our community can weather the next few months and come out with the least damage possible. The United States has not seen a crisis to this scale in decades on our soil, and it is clearly one of those times that history will certainly remember.
That sacrifice, that drive to give up parts of ourselves to make our home safer and stronger, is what I believe is at the core of patriotism. Patriotism is the sense of pride and joy that we have in our nation that makes us do whatever we must to protect that nation and everyone in it. It is the idea that we are a part of something greater, and that we must do all that is in our power to preserve that thing for future generations long after we have passed on.
Most Americans were lucky in that they could have this sense of pride in their country without ever having to sacrifice to protect it. Before this year, most of us were comfortable with the fact that the United States was safe and secure enough that we could go about our daily lives without ever having to give up parts of ourselves for this great country. The trust we have in our military and government made us think that we would never have to sacrifice for the betterment of our nation.
Unfortunately, that reality has changed. We are now asked to give up our daily lives and put our future plans on hold in order to protect our community from a threat that cannot be seen. We are asked to sacrifice our freedom in order to protect our safety and the safety of our neighbors, family, and friends. We are called upon to be patriots, and to give up core aspects of ourselves in order to ensure that this country remains as great as ever.
Now is one of those times where average citizens can begin to understand the patriotism that drives the servicemen and women who have preserved the United States for so long. We can begin to recognize the extent of these heroes’ sacrifices, and can really start to appreciate what they have given up for the sake of this country. While we are now tasked with sitting on the couch all day, they have been tasked with putting their lives on the line to keep us safe. While our sacrifice involves lounging around watching Netflix, they have to face the harshest conditions in order to maintain our security. The patriotism of these men and women is unmatched; and all of us should take time to recognize that as we sacrifice for our country ourselves.
Patriotism is millions of people putting their lives on hold to stop a virus, and it is also thousands of men and women leaving their families to protect us around the world. It is my aunt spending every waking moment making masks for doctors, and it is my English teacher who spent years serving all over the world. It is my grandmother making homemade hand sanitizer for her apartment building, and it is my classmate who enlisted for the Marines right after he graduated high school. Patriotism is all around us, and it is of the utmost importance that we begin to recognize it.
Lauren Hilty, Vail Christian High School
Patriotism to me is being 100% behind your country, it is undivided pride and love for your homeland. It is not just about the celebrations that we have once a year like the Fourth of July and Veterans Day. Yes, those are important to this country as a whole and are very special, but there is more than that. It is celebrating our freedom every day and appreciating the path that our ancestors have paved for us.
Being an active citizen in America is a part of that by expressing our freedoms either through speech or practices and voting. Being an active and involved citizen of the country includes voting and paying attention to issues in the community and the nation, it is our responsibility as a citizen. Patriotism is not just about waving a flag, but understanding how we got to the point where we can do that freely and pledge our allegiance to the flag of the United States of America while standing in pride and either placing our hand over our hearts or saluting out of respect.
Patriotism is appreciating the things that are done for this country and the people that serve it. It is about being grateful and showing our appreciation for our veterans and active-duty military members who have or are fighting for and alongside our country. Those people sacrifice their life for the citizens of this country and to me, patriotism is all about supporting them just as they support us. Giving them the utmost respect they deserve and honoring them as they are willing to die for our rights, whether you agree or not with what their mission was or is.
In conclusion, patriotism to me is supporting our country by being an active citizen fulfilling responsibilities, understanding the history of the United States of America, appreciating the things done for this country, and honoring our active soldiers and veterans who fight for our rights.