<i>At the 35th annual Arlington tribute to Martin Luther King Jr., the county announced the winners of the student writing contest. The topic of this year’s contest was, “Dear Dr. King, This is what it means to be an American or, to live in America.” Students were asked to describe their experiences. Students from across Arlington sent in more than 900 essays, graded by 18 judges based on content, clarity, originality and presentation.</i>
<b>First Place High School Female</b>
Dear Dr. King,
Being an American gives us the opportunity to dream and to build, to struggle and to prosper, and to fail and to succeed. It is the freedom to live in a place that puts no restrictions on us and no boundaries on how far we can go. Being an American allows us to embrace the richness of other cultures and gives an undying sense of freedom. Being an American gives us the courage to stand proud and unafraid, even in hard times.
The perfect America is within grasp, and if we work hard enough we can succeed in making it a truly spectacular place for everyone. I want to be able to live in an America that does not threaten its neighbors, but cooperates in all ways possible. A place that does not exploit other countries, but shares the world’s resources with others. I want to live in an America where I feel safe and free from harm and where people feel free to practice their own religions and cultures without feeling threatened or out of place. An America where I am not afraid to speak up to fight for something I believe in.
I want to live in an America where we spend our time and money fighting for those truly important causes, like finding a cure for cancer or a cure for AIDS. I want to be able to help others and have others care about the less fortunate.
I want to live in an America where the future is bright because we care about out children, who hold the key to it. An America where we embrace our differences and celebrate our common ties. Dr. King, I share your vision for America.
<b>—Meagan Riley,</b> Age 14 Grade 9
<b>First Place High School Male</b>
Dear Dr. King,
I always ask myself one question: What would my life be like if I were not in America? Well, the answer seems simple to me. I wouldn’t even have a life if I lived some other place. My life would be in the hands of a heartless tyrant, who thinks he is “god” as he takes away my natural rights. I know that most American people ask this question of themselves, as they see the world news on television. I also know that there are many people throughout the world who dream of a place in America.
For me, America is more than the land of hope and opportunity. It is the place where my natural rights are guaranteed and protected; most importantly, I can express my opinion about my government freely and choose the religion that I desire.
Opportunities are abundant in America. However, the truth simply is that America allows me to be a failure or to succeed depending on how much work I do. Living in America is one of the best things that can happen to anyone, but at the same time, it is not worth having all the things that America offers is one does not work hard enough to make America an even greater place in which to live.
Finally, I would say that I am very happy to be home. Like you, Dr. King, I once had a dream that some day I would go to the land of hope; now I am in it. I live in it and I am part of it.
An Arlingtonian student
<b>—Juan Hereida,</b> Age 17 Grade 11
<b>First Place Middle School Female</b>
Dear Dr. King,
To me, being American means waking up every morning not worrying about people persecuting me because of my beliefs. Being American means that every morning, I wake up free. I can say, do and believe anything I want.
Being American also means helping others. Americans shouldn’t take their rights for granted. Our ancestors died to free us from England, and now it’s our turn to hold up to our generation’s end of the bargain. We should contribute money and time to Tikkun Olam. We should become less ignorant, because we can. We, as Americans, should take advantage of our rights. If for no other reason, we should do it for the people who can’t — for people who will never have the great opportunities handed to us every day.
Most of all, being American means being equal. We should treat each other equally. America is a Melting Pot of all different races, faiths and ancestry, and we should cherish our diverse and unique culture.
By saying this, I hope to give you a small idea of what it is like to be American in today’s world. I hope that every day, Americans carry on your great work for civil rights. Your work has freed many people from discrimination, and America would be eternally grateful for all you did to make it a better and more equal place.
<b>—Maggie Winters,</b> Age 13 Grade 8
<b>First Place Middle School Male</b>
Dear Dr. King:
I am writing to tell you what America means to me. Above all else, America means FREEDOM. You fought for freedom and justice for all people, regardless of their race or color. Even when you went to jail 29 times, you kept on fighting. Through your actions and beliefs, you showed great courage. You paid the ultimate price, and now Americans have more freedoms than ever before. We are free to live, believe, write and say what we please.
On Sept. 11, terrorists caught us sleeping. They hijacked planes and flew them into the World Trade Center in New York; the Pentagon in Washington, D.C.; and a field in Pennsylvania. They killed over 3,000 people — people who were doing normal, everyday things like traveling and going to work. I never imagined something so horrible could happen to our country — but it did. In fact it happened to my family.
My dad was working at the Pentagon that day, My mom watched as the plane flew over our house, clipping the tops of trees. From my desk at school I heard a loud explosion. It was the sound of the rescue plane breaking the sound barrier as it flew over our heads. Kids and teachers were running everywhere. The smell of burning ashes was in the air. For several hours, we didn’t know if my dad was dead or alive. I prayed like I had never prayed before: “God, please let my dad be O.K.” When I finally saw my dad that afternoon, he told me the plane did not hit near his office. Everyone in the Pentagon was evacuated and many people walked home that day. I was thankful my dad was not hurt or killed. Some kids lost both their mom AND dad that day.
On September 11th, we learned we couldn’t take our freedoms for granted. We learned that freedom comes at a price, and that price is responsibility. Like our bodies, our freedoms must be exercised to remain strong. Freedoms that are not stretched or tested will shrivel up and pass away. I wonder what you would think of terrorism if you were alive today. Would you be afraid? Would you stop fighting? I don’t think so. Isn’t it ironic that today, Americans who have the most freedoms don’t really feel free at all? If we could only be more loving and grateful and less afraid! This is a lesson we still need to learn from you.
<b>—Eric Schroeder,</b> Age 14 Grade 8
<b>First Place Elementary Female</b>
Dear Dr. King,
I’ve always loved your words, “Let freedom ring.”
As I write this poem I think about the many things that you did
Not just for me, not only for thee, not just for your name to live in eternity.
As a young American, I see myself in the freedom land,
Not there yet and why I don’t understand.
I get my education at a school that has more whites than any other color.
There is some diversity in my school.
And we try to learn about each other.
The problem, it seems to me, is that the democracy has chosen the
People with money.
The average people who vote don’t play an important enough part
And they do not find that funny.
Living in America is fun and exciting for me.
We are safe; we have education, and the right to pursue prosperity.
Everything here is still not perfect yet.
There is peace between blacks and whites just like you strove for
However, there is peace and unity in other places in the world which
Means so much more
People don’t have to use separate bathrooms, counters or sit at the
Back of the bus.
Dr. King I love you and I am thankful for what you did for us.
<b>—Hailey Turner,</b> Age 10 Grade 5
<b>First Place Elementary Male</b>
Dear Dr. King,
I’m an African-American just like you. Since I am an African-American, I will tell you how it feels to live in America. Today we do not live in bad places. We can live in the same places that the other Americans do. We can be citizens so we can stay as long as we want. And we are equal so we can do stuff that other Americans do. And, Dr. Martin Luther King, we are so happy that you tried to make us equal.
Today we are equal to all other Americans.
<b>—James John Wanda,</b> Age 9 Grade 4
<b>First Place K-2 Female </b>
Dear Dr. King,
In the past, black people couldn’t be friends with whites. I am glad that blacks can be with whites now. In the past, black people had to go to the back of the bus. Now, being an American means having friends from many places. One friend that I have is from Mexico. If I had a friend that was white back then, we would have had to be separate, because I am not white. I have some friends from many different places. It helps me to learn different things. It means lots of things to me. Being an American also means being nice to everyone. When you were alive, lots of people didn’t like you. Now we have to be nice to everyone. If I were alive when you were, I would have had to be mean to my friend Murphy. Murphy is my friend even though he looks a little different from me. I like being an American now!
<b>—Carrie Mahoney,</b> Age 7 Grade 2
<b>First Place K-2 Male</b>
Dear Dr. King,
Being an American or to live in America today, is of great importance considering the world in which we live. In many parts of the world, liberties of all sorts are only heard about but are not experienced. Here in America, we have the privilege to get educated, freedom of expression and to worship in any shape or form. Being and living in America offers the opportunity to fulfill dreams — become an educator, an astronaut, a physicist and many more irrespective of color of creed. Living in America means living in the best country.
<b>—Joshua Inyangson,</b> Age 7 Grade 2