Publisher’s note: Olivia Olson, a junior at Edmonds-Woodway High School, presented this essay during the Edmonds Memorial Day ceremony May 29. We are posting it here, with her permission, in response to readers’ requests.
Vulnerable, helpless, and defenseless. That’s how we all start our lives, entirely dependent upon our parents. They feed us, bathe us, and teach us the importance of sharing and saying please. It seems our parents can solve any problem; they are everything we aspire to become. As we get older, however, we start developing our own opinions, and we begin to realize our parents don’t have all the answers. Our relationship with one another grows and changes shape as the years pass, but even when you thought you’d long outgrown your need for them, your parents are there when you realize this wasn’t true. As you mature and your parents age, it one day becomes your responsibility to take care of them as they once took care of you.
As the child not only of my parents, but of this nation as well, I’ve been raised on the values of freedom and equality. When I was younger, I took what our country had to offer me: the right to an education, the right to speak my mind, and the luxury to live in safety. But just as a teenager is unlikely to agree with every rule their parents make, I am unlikely to agree with every policy our government implements. However, in spite of the formation of my unique, and at some times contrasting, opinions, I am eternally grateful for both my parents and my country. As I get older, it’s becoming my responsibility to serve my country, to uphold and improve the state of our nation for future generations. Just as a grown child inherits the responsibility of caring for aging parents, we too inherit the responsibility of caring for our nation. If we abandon our parents or country in their times of need, we ignore the sacrifices made by generations of mothers, fathers, veterans, and public servants. If we don’t vote and speak up in government as we get older, we fail to further and improve the very concepts that kept us free in our youth.
Everyone’s duty to their country is inherently the same: to care for it as it has cared for you. But if this nation has failed to take care of you, you owe it to yourself and future generations to ensure that you do not continue to suffer the same plight. We can’t choose our parents and we can’t choose the country into which we’re born; but we leave our family, and our nation, better or worse based on the contributions we’ve chosen to make, or not make. One of the contributions my generation and I need to make is to ensure that our veterans are cared for in their time of need. Our responsibility is a dedication to the organizations that aid in physical, emotional, and psychological recovery. We must strive to better their state of care and address veteran homelessness by speaking out and being involved in the solution.
Additionally, we need to reach a point where we can respect contrasting views. Because all American citizens have different backgrounds and political ideologies, we won’t always agree with one another. But just as the screaming match you have with your mom isn’t going to change her mind, verbally attacking and assaulting political adversaries is not the best way to affect change and create a positive arena for making important world
decisions. One of our responsibilities to future generations is perpetuating the practice of respectful political discourse. Whether the matter at hand is health care, education, or
environmental issues, working together is the only way to reach an outcome that benefits the common good.
Regardless of the path I choose for myself, my responsibility to America is to preserve and improve the state of our nation. I will make certain that I do not ignore the sacrifices made by our troops on our behalf. I will speak out against injustice where I see it. And I will participate in government the way our republic has enabled me. As my generation and I become the parents of America, we must protect the vulnerable, enable the helpless, and aid the defenseless, while nurturing and inspiring excellence and active citizenship from all.
— By Olivia Olson