Hi everybody! Yesterday was Memorial Day, and we are remembering all of the brave men and women who died serving our country and fighting for our freedom. Getting back from the Tennessee American Legion Boys State–which I recommend anybody who is selected to participate to go–I feel called to write this post. Even though LILbooKlovers’s two-year blogoversary has passed, I personally think that I need to write about two experiences that have changed who I am.
A few weeks ago, I went to Washington, DC, to compete in a festival with my choir. The trip exceeded all of my expectations. But what makes it truly one of the best experiences of my life is not the fun or the bonding; in fact, it is how much sightseeing through our nation’s capital impacted me as an American and as a leader.
I have always been a history buff. Throughout middle school, I loved learning about historical figures and British history. Historical fiction is honestly my favorite genre in literature. Since I took AP US History this year, having the opportunity to visit Washington, DC, was fitting. And it definitely proved to be fruitful.
I became fascinated at seeing the actual pike John Brown used in his Harpers’ Ferry raid or the actual top hat Abraham Lincoln once wore. I was mesmerized as I stood on the very steps at the Lincoln Memorial where Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., gave his “I Have a Dream” speech, and I imagined myself as if I were there that very day. I did not want to get out of that trance. However, two sites that I visited proved to be the most life-changing, and they have inspired within me a deafening desire to become a better patriot and a better leader.
Seeing the endless rows of white headstones at Arlington National Cemetery was a sobering experience. Arlington National Cemetery is 624 acres total, and if you walk through those hallowed grounds, you cannot count the number of gravestones present. Imagine, that is not even a small portion of the thousands, if not millions, of men who died for our country. They gave up their lives to protect the freedoms that the United States endears for its citizens. And these wars were brutal. From Vietnam to World War II, these soldiers have seen an unfathomable amount of horrors and atrocities that haunt them until the day they die. Yet our veterans are often overlooked and forgotten in today’s society. The simplest thank you or conversation can make all the difference in a veteran’s day.
One of the most memorable experiences of my life–one that I will probably never forget–is when I witnessed the actual flag that inspired the Star Spangled Banner. Yes, the American flag, which is one-third the size of a football field, that proudly waved over Fort McHenry in the War of 1812, where Francis Scott Key wrote his epic poem from a distance. To see the actual banner at the Smithsonian brought me to tears and filled me with a renewed sense of patriotism that I have never felt before. The flag is so beautiful and so awesome that you can stare at it for hours. The words I am telling you right now cannot fully describe the beauty and splendor of this great artifact. To be able to see it in person has made me ever more firm that I am an American.
Just last week, I attended the Tennessee American Legion Boys State, which is an intensive one-week program that gives nearly 550 rising seniors from around the state a glimpse of the state government and the military lifestyle. Boys State exceeded all my expectations–while there were highs and lows and times when I doubted myself, ultimately I had fun, made many new friends, and became changed as a leader.
Our big chant at Boys State was “Boys Staters. Don’t Quit.” I ran for governor, and there was a point where I was about to give up in my campaign. After realizing that I not only had a chance at the position but also a whole ton of support from my fellow Boys Staters, I decided not to give up. Even though I lost the primaries, this continued perseverance led me to be elected by our General Assembly (our State Representatives and Senators) as Secretary of State with a nearly unanimous vote from both the House and the Senate. If I had stopped after losing the primaries, I would have never had this opportunity. Instead, I supported my party’s candidate loudly and proudly (he is amazing by the way), voted for him, and continued on my Boys State journey.
Boys State can be very tough at times. You have to make your room in a strict, precise way. You are required to make hospital corners on your bed. There are days when you have to wake up at 4 o’clock in the morning and stay up past midnight from a fire drill. You might have to march in 90 degree weather out in the burning sun. Personally, it wasn’t that bad. I liked the food yet I wanted to go back to my own bed and sleep for hours. But this is the life of the military. They undergo training that is a thousand times worse than what I endured with only two hours of sleep on a good day. Not the average American can survive this training.
From both of these experiences, I’ve developed a deeper and more profound respect for those who serve our country. What they do on a daily basis is something I personally cannot do, and I commend them greatly for it. We need to thank the men and women in uniform and also our veterans in our communities for all the hard work and service they have poured to keep our country safe and to preserve our freedom. Freedom is never free, and there is always a price. There is always a heroic martyr who dies so we may live, and it is important to remember and honor that sacrifice.
I have definitely grown as an American citizen and as a leader from DC and Boys State. Certainly, I will recommend to anyone who has the opportunity to do either one to jump on it. Boys State might be hard and long for the first couple of days, but it’s worth it. DC may be full of mean Northerners (I’m so used to Southern hospitality and believe that should be the way of life), but it’s full of history to be explored. Walking in the footsteps where leaders have made great impacts on our country and where history has been in the making has been an honor and a privilege that I will never forget. I am proud to be an American, and I hope to continue serving my country–whether it be through blogging, reading, or music–in any way possible.
Comment below, or find me in one of my social media pages, and let’s chat!