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Four Years at the Mount

Reflecting upon being an American

July 2015

Free to be Me

Sarah Muir
MSM Class of 2018

I am proud to be an American where at least I know I am free to be me. I know that sounds a little too cliché for some of you reading this, but with this being the month that holds the anniversary of our country's independence, it is hard not to ruminate on the benefits of living here.

In my last article, I discussed the sincerity and the perfect ideals framed The Declaration of Independence and our Bill of Rights. Forgive me for harping at the same idea, but I find it difficult to discuss my pride of being an American without mentioning these two important documents. Here in America, I have the right to be who I am, which is, among other things: a Catholic, a woman, a student, and a writer.

The first Amendment protects an individual’s rights of religion, speech, and press. It never specifically excludes any religion, nor gives and exception to when that faith can be exploited. Now, while individuals may or may not hold personal grudges and biases towards one particular religious group or another; the documents upon which our country was founded do not single out one religion while degrading another. I was born and raised Roman Catholic and my faith is very important to me, so too, by extension, is this Amendment. I am extremely grateful to live in a country where I can practice my faith without censure or fear.

I rarely think about what it means to be a woman in America verses what it means in other countries. There are some who believe that women are still disrespected, degraded, and still seen as subordinate to men in American society. While I agree that there is still an undertone of inequality, I realize that I am lucky to have been born here, where I have the right to vote, the right to defend my country, the right to hold office, and the right to an education. My rights are protected, I am not required or expected to get married, keep house, and pop out 2.5 kids. I have the underappreciated right to chase my career, to marry if and when I want, to have dreams and hopes of a better future. It is an unfortunate truth that in some parts of the world these rights are still denied to women.

The right to education is an important one and as a student (and a sister to a teacher of today’s youth), it holds a special place in my heart. Knowledge is a powerful tool, one that everyone has a right to utilize. A civil rights activist and icon of hope and equality, Malala Yousafzai, realizes the importance of education and has spoken out numerous times as an advocate of education and the right of knowledge, even at the risk of her own life. As a country, we tend to take advantage of education and I know for certain that I have. I have had the privilege of learning in well-equipped schools, and did not, until now, attempt to imagine a life where I would be unable or forbidden to pursue an education. Until now, I have never thought that I could have been born in a place with no libraries or a place filled with only censored books, or a place where it is seen as a waste to educate a woman. Now that I have taken time to realize this, I am more than proud to be an American, I am grateful.

Being a writer is also very important to me. It is as much a part of me as my faith, and to live in a country that protects what I write is obviously valuable. To know that I can express my views whether in speech or in ink, without fear of persecution or, as previously mentioned, censorship, is comforting and also somewhat empowering. However, the reason I have this right is because I live in America. Writing and other forms of expression are not only important, but also necessary. By denying this right, you are denying a person their voice and on a greater scale, you are denying who they are. Looking back at literature, and other media, though the ages, one can see a reflection of the time in which it was written. One can see the times of prosperity, protest, pride, and persecution drip from the pages and canvas. It is inhumane to refuse a person their voice whether it be in speech, paint, or ink.

I am proud to be an American and feel indebted to the men and women throughout the ages that have created, fought for, and protected our country and her ideals out of pride, honor, and good old-fashion stubbornness. So this July, as the smoke from the grill hangs in the air and as the lights of the fireworks light up the sky, look around. As colored light washes over the faces of your loved ones, take notice of the look of wonder and awe that alight on their features; and the look of pride in their eyes that burn in the afterglow.

Read other articles by Sarah Muir

Tale of Two Countries

Leeanne Leary
Class of 2017

I am currently on my 18th day in Bulgaria as I sit down to write this article, and it seems a little strange that I am immersed in the culture over here, about to write about why I'm proud to be an American as we approach Independence Day.

I am mainly in the towns of Plovdiv and Assenovgrad on a CULP Deployment with ROTC. CULP is a culture immersion program and an acronym for Culture, Understanding, and Language Proficiency. We are functioning primarily as a CELT team - meaning Cadet English Language Training Team (more acronyms, I know). Essentially, our mission here is to work with officers and NCO's in Bulgaria's 4th Artillery Regiment, as a part of their English Language Training. They must reach a proficient level in order to obtain promotions to a higher rank. We teach in teams in the mornings and spend the afternoons partaking in various cultural activities.

There are very obvious differences between Bulgaria and America - to begin, Bulgaria is a second world country, so although it does not appear to be impoverished at first glance, most of the extreme poverty is covered up by well built cities and the small percentage of wealthy and well-travelled areas. It is beyond this surface, where the real differences come to light, but interestingly enough, it is beyond this surface where the similarities arise and I experience true culture.

The theme of our trip and the message that we keep receiving from our cadre members is that one only needs to scratch the surface to realize that we are not so different from each other. When I heard this on the first day I did not realize how true it would be. We, as Americans and Bulgarians, live in different style homes, but have the same family structures inside; we wear different military uniforms, but in a few short weeks I've learned that none of these soldiers would ever leave any of ours behind and we really are not so different at all.

Now I would like to pause and offer my usual "please don't take any of this the wrong way" that I always seem to have to add. This is an article about why I am proud to be an American, right? Why am I writing about the equality and beauty of another country?

It took me a minute to answer this myself since I knew where I wanted this to end, but not how to explain it. But now after this past week of truly forming friendships and relationships with our Bulgarian counterparts that I know will last, I realize that the fact that I can say that is the reason in itself why I am so genuinely proud to be an American. I have the incredible and beautiful freedom to be in Bulgaria right now, to write about how great I think it is, and to know that, when I return home, my friends and family will want to know all about the culture and the people. I can go home and know that our military will continue to support theirs and vice versa. This all gives me reason to be not only proud, but also thankful.

All too often, the image of America, both around the world and in discussions in our own country, becomes skewed by the fast food style of living, the materialistic lifestyle of some of our rich and famous, the latest scandal in Hollywood, or an act of bigotry and violence that stains the perfect picture that some want to remain convinced that our country is.

Each of the things on this list has a critical role in our culture, some more than others, and some much more serious than others, but after digging a little deeper, I am now convinced that we will find we are not so different from Bulgaria, and America still holds the beauty it should.

I am proud to be an American where I know that beyond the fast paced, fast food, news driven image, our culture is a collaboration of towns and cities that are all incredibly unique in their own right, but not that different underneath the surface. I am proud that I can travel and know that I come from a country that, although we shout and believe that our country is the greatest in the world, knows that our relationships with people and other countries are vital not only to our own cultural experiences, but to our future and well-being as a country.

Here is where it all ties together and my rambling may make some sense: being in Bulgaria has taught me an important lesson about why I am proud to be an American. I am proud to wear my uniform and stand next to our Bulgarian friends who wear theirs, knowing that our uniforms define who we represent, but not who we are, because we have that freedom. I am proud to see a little bit of every culture in our own. I am proud to have found that, just like we as Americans are not so different from Bulgarians, I as a Pennsylvania native am not so different from my team members from Tennessee, Colorado, Iowa, and Texas. I am proud that, in order to form relationships with the Bulgarians, I had to first form relationships with my teammates and in a foreign setting simply being from and serving the same country is enough to do that and more.

So yes, I am proud to be an American where I know I am free, where I am guaranteed an education, where, as a woman I have the same rights as a man, where I can be undeniably myself and can fight for the right to be myself if I ever feel slighted, where I go home to a town that feels like home and where I know I am safe, and so much more. I am proud of my nationality for all of these reasons, but recently, as I hope I have conveyed, I am proud to be an American where at least I know that as we each hold the beautiful title of American, we are also not that different if one only dares to scratch the surface.

I do not know if I needed to be in another country and find similarities in a foreign culture to notice this, or if I could have travelled a few states or even cities over and found that same thing, but I do know that the extremity of the obvious differences between foreign cultures does make it a much more important and valuable lesson when you find the similarities and being in a foreign setting, it becomes very easy and strangely exciting to be with other Americans and meet people who have been to or come from America. I am not completely naVve, as I do understand that once back home it will be all too easy to stay in our comfortable niches, separated by city, race, religion, political affiliation, and more, but I am proud to know that once I get home I will have the enlightening knowledge that I can look at each and every person in whichever category they choose to identify with and know that I share at least one title with every person I come across and that will provide more similarities and connections that some will ever even like to admit.

The theme of our trip is more in the similarities and relationships than it is in any cultural differences. In my usual fashion, I have not quite stayed on topic or answered the prompt directly (I apologize) but I have now listed a lot of reasons why I am proud to be an American. Most of all I am proud to be an American where at least I know at the end of the day I share that beautiful title with a countless amount of people. I am proud to return home 2 days before Independence Day and know that on that day I will be celebrating much more than our independence, but more in the identity that we now all share - simply and incredibly being American.

Read other articles by Leeanne Leary

Women in America

Katie Powell
MSM Class of 2015

(7/2015) When I was 11 years old, I went on a trip to Guatemala, a country in Central America. Until that point, the only life I had experienced was the life of American privilege. East coast summers are decently hot, but all you need to do is turn on the AC and you’re cool and comfortable.

Guatemala is practically on the equator and most people in the country barely have electricity, let alone an air conditioner. At my home in New Jersey, I had a habit of taking naps on the carpet in my living room. In the average Guatemalan home, families have dirt floors.

My time in Guatemala was spent volunteering to help build the second floor of an elementary school that was next to a dilapidated home where 5 children lived. The 2 boys attended the school; the 3 girls were not allowed because the family could not afford tuition for all 5 children. Visiting Guatemala opened my eyes to how lucky I was to have grown up where I did. My opportunities as a woman, educationally and as an athlete are virtually unparalleled in other countries, which makes me so grateful and proud to be an American.

Until that trip to Guatemala, I had never considered myself entitled, I had never thought of myself as especially privileged, or anything of the like. Coming home from that trip, I felt guilty turning on the air conditioning. The thought of leaving food on my plate at the end of a meal was appalling. Not wanting to go to school felt like a crime.

I have always been greatly involved in my community, and in the last 2 years, I have been given positions of greater authority. I never thought of the significance of my authority until I realized that women in some other countries have little power. There are countries where women’s submissiveness to men is a cultural norm—some women are challenging it, but they face a great deal of misogyny and adversity.

In the United States, we are in an era where women are senators and members of the House of Representatives, and some women are considering running for president. Personally, I am a chairperson for the student athlete committee at the Mount, I have been offered the position of being a member of the Institute for Leadership, and I have been selected as a Mount Ambassador, a representative of my community. When I think about the advancement of women in the United States over the last 100 years, I cannot help but be proud to be a modern American woman.

What an amazing transition, from being prohibited from voting, to running for president? Even in the last 43 years at the Mount—women could not be admitted in 1971, and in this coming year I will not only be a student, but will also hold 3 leadership positions on the Mount St. Mary’s University campus.

Often, I will think about those 3 girls in Guatemala who watched their brothers get ready for school and leave every day, knowing their brothers were a priority to their parents. I imagine them cooking, cleaning, sewing, and seeing their brothers come home from school and show off their writing and reading skills, and I can see the despair in their faces as they realize they will never get to go to school alongside their counterparts. It deeply troubles me to know that there are countries where women are the second priority behind men. What makes me proudest is knowing that women in the United States are fighting- and winning- the fight against gender prejudice.

In a similar light, I am so thankful that I was raised in a country with a public education system. I have set lofty goals for myself professionally. When I take a moment to think about the fact that I was publically educated for grades 1 through 12, I realize that I would not have had any of the opportunities that I had taken advantage of growing up. I am 100% certain that, had I been living in Guatemala without a public school to attend, I would not be where I am today. I might not even be literate.

My education has been such an amazing opportunity for me. My self-confidence soared in kindergarten when I began to read. When I got my first A in a math class, I finally felt smart. When I made Dean’s List in college, the pride welled up inside me. I owe so much of who I am to my educational opportunities. My education has been my validation, has given me significance, and has provided me with the means to my professional ends. I am so fortunate that I was able to receive a quality education since age 5. Now, at age 21 and at the start of my senior year of college, I am so grateful to have grown up in a country that could educate me and give me the tools I needed to succeed.

Being a woman in the United States (as difficult as it can be, even in this century) used to be much more difficult, especially for athletic women. Since women were considered fragile and dainty, they did not do sports. In my house, my sister and I always played hockey, volleyball, soccer and basketball in our backyard. I cannot imagine growing up in a time when I would be prevented from getting outside and burning off some energy. Swimming, and sports in general, have been such a large part of my life, and without sports I can guarantee I would not be who I am today. Today, I am a division one swimmer.

What I wear every day for practice would have been considered immodest and scandalous 70 years ago, even though men were wearing much less. Today’s suits are logical, designed for performance rather than fashion. Women are now recognized more for their accomplishments in the pool rather than their bathing suits. When I compete, I am much more confident knowing that I am recognized for the work I put in to my sport to get to that competition, and not for the way my bathing suit looks.

My point is that the position of women then and now is part of the proof that the United States is a nation that is still progressing. While I occasionally get frustrated at the slow moving progress of Congress, or an essential bill not passing, I cannot help but believe in my nation. We are a country of doers, and we have been since our founding. Every century has their rebels fighting for a new equality, which keeps the United States on its toes. The success of a nation depends heavily on its ability to bob and weave the shots of the ages, to roll with the punches of time. Countries that refuse to adopt this nimble existence get left behind and trampled by protestors, new governments or corruption.

The United States was designed with a "come one, come all" premise, which allows it to perfectly curve with the changing tides. The United States of America is built for change. Our founding fathers anticipated deviations to come and designed the constitution to allow those changes to occur seamlessly. It is that expectation of variance, that willingness for difference, which makes me proud to be an American.

Read other articles by Katie Powell

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