2008 Gerald R. Ford Essay Challenge

Second Place Winner


Sarah Legault

Forest Hills Northern High School

11th Grade


            The word “patriotism” plays a limited role in our lives today. In the bustle between work and school and home, we forget to take pride in our country. Unlike Americans in the nation’s early years, when the concept of freedom still rang with freshness and the idea of the United States captivated all Americans, today, we take our nation for granted. We forget our ancestors’ struggle to win this land. We ignore the wonder of this country’s achievements: the union of multiple states, the first nation on the moon, the leader of the twenty-first century. We overlook all of these claims. Then, at night on television, we listen to politicians reprimand us for a lack of patriotism. They demand that we fight for our country, support our troops, vote. They use the word “patriotism” shallowly. For them, it serves to guilt us into action, to convince us to support their campaign. Eventually, we accept the politicians’ definition as the sole meaning of patriotism; however, their propaganda blinds us to the deeper meaning. Patriotism means not just fighting for the country, but support for our country, loyalty to our country, and pride in our country.

            At our nation’s beginning, those who supported breaking from Great Britain called themselves patriots. Although not all patriots fought in the war, they all supported the aberrant idea of a new nation. Pride in America began with them. After the war ended, the pride continued, spurring the beginning of a great era of nationalism.

The leaders of nationalism wanted the best for America. They attempted to break all ties with Europe and forge a purely American culture. A new culture, they believed, served America’s best interest. They understood that supporting a nation involves attempting to improve it. We want a nation to be worthy of our support, before we pledge it. Since the United States, according to the Constitution, is “a nation for the people, by the people, and of the people,” we, the people, determine its success; our actions determine whether it deserves our support, pride and loyalty. Therefore, patriotism encompasses not only the loyalty given to the nation, but the actions we perform to contribute to its well-being.

These actions may occur in small towns or the capital itself. They all help the country. Some instances may attract the attention of countless people, including future generations. George Washington led us through the Revolutionary War; Abraham Lincoln held the nation together in spite of the South’s defiance; Gerald R. Ford brought the people through a great loss of faith in the government. In other cases, though, the acts never receive attention: the quiet man who offers to house the homeless, the laborers who form the base of our entire country. Every day, patriotism appears in this mundane form; since, in order to help our nation, we must help the people who compose it. Without us, no nation, only a block of land exists here.

            In truth, then, patriotism consists of many layers. At first, we assume it includes only one layer, but with further inspection, we realize it embraces many more. Political propaganda only skims the most basic meaning of the word. Patriotism encompasses each individual’s efforts to raise the nation. Only when we succeed in building a nation we feel deserves our loyalty, can we give it that loyalty.

Long ago, our founding fathers provided us with the foundation for this patriotism. They gave us the best start any nation could desire. They gave us a nation based on freedom. From there, the United States grew. Our heritage contains a long list of attributes of which to boast, a list of powers gained. When we hear the word patriotism, those attributes should come to mind. Never, though, should we consider that list complete. Our nation deserves more. We must build our nation and we must build our patriotism. On the past, we should look with pride. On the future, we should look with expectation.