American Success

Achieving your goals and following your dreams is what is currently coined as a success in America. However, I argue that true success comes from doing something so meaningful that it positively affects the entire nation. Unity matters and education is a great way to build that.

By Allison O. from Columbus High School in Montana

It is no secret that America is a nation composed of people with a variety of different backgrounds, nationalities, and goals. Long before the country became official in 1776, people were migrating here in hopes of making a better life for themselves and for their families. The United States has always been known for its characteristic of mobility and opportunity. The idea that a person could work their way up from nothing to the top doing something they alone chose has drawn people from around the world to this nation. However, as time has passed this dream of success has become less and less attainable in the public’s eyes. According to a study published by Pew Charitable Trusts, 77% of Americans no longer believe in the “American Dream” of miraculously moving up classes. This leaves the leaders of the country questioning what has changed and if there is a way to reestablish faith in the American Creed that has held the nation together.

Former Secretary of State and current professor at Stanford University, Condoleezza Rice, has been discussing what makes America stand out among nations in the film American Creed. During the movie she details her own history, specifically how education was her “holy grail.” When her grandpa made the decision to attend college, her entire family was positively impacted. Condoleezza moved up the classes through education and perseverance perfectly exemplifying the American Dream. Because of her experiences, Condoleezza has dedicated much of her time to furthering education in the nation. During a speech given for The Foundation of Excellence in Education, she calls for a collective energy to educate the nation. Rather than educators alone being concerned with education, she claims the entire nation ought to be. Men and women from all fields in the U.S. need to work together to ensure the youth have the educational means to reach their goals. According to Condoleezza, there is no issue more important than this for a nation. She claims that while mobility is decreasing, the U.S. is still unique in its ability to mobilize human potential and the only way to maintain this trait is to become one community focused on making the nation as a whole better. The way to reestablish faith in the American Dream is to be united with purpose.

This sentiment for education is shared by many speakers in the film such as Leila Janah, the founder of Sama. Sama is an organization dedicated to giving people in broken communities the means to earn a living. They educate citizens in useful computer skills that give them the opportunity to make a better life for themselves all the while paying them for the work they do during the process. Much like Condoleezza, Leila was affected by education at an early age. She worked her way from a modest public high school to Harvard and has since made it her mission to help those less fortunate than herself. She stated in American Creed that, oftentimes, opportunity is not equally distributed across the country. Her work in communities with little to no internet access or cell reception has proved just that to her. These communities are at a disadvantage to the rest of the nation in terms of opportunity and education. Her company has been working to enable people to overcome these setbacks and begin living their American dream. Sama has been successful in bringing communities together to work toward a focused goal of growth and has allowed each individual involved to earn money they wouldn’t have otherwise had the opportunity to earn.

Individualism has been on the rise in the nation, but it has always been present. In fact, in a report detailing America’s history, James Waititu describes how individualism has been at the core of the nation since its beginning. Individualism at the time was a new concept for a country and it was part of what gave the United States an edge. The idea that citizens had the right to choose their own religion, hometown, and career was unique and brought many people to the land. It was this personal freedom that made America attractive and this is why many people still value individualism today. For many people, the concept of collectivism detracts from the intents of the nation. People don’t want to see focus shifted to the community because doing so would mean that the prized individualism decreases. People like the idea of individual efforts in education, careers, and nearly all other aspects of life. Because the United States is a nation of such variety and diversity, people have chosen to focus on the differences. They hope to preserve their past by isolating themselves from one another.

The speakers in American Creed take a different stance. They argue that the rise of individualism is actually what is harming the nation and that we need to give build our communities. As Condoleezza says, “You can do anything you want, but you can’t leave anyone behind.” Yes, America is a nation that has thrived on diversity and is composed of all different nationalities, but it is at the same time a nation that ought to be working toward a common cause. Being a free individual doesn’t mean forgetting about the rest of the country. Also from the film, educator Deidre Prevett says that “We need to be concerned with every kid in the nation, not just our own.” The education of children is something that affects everyone in the nation, so everyone needs to take part in ensuring the education being given is a great one. True success is accomplishing something that improves not just your own life, but the nation as a whole. Collectivism and success begin with quality education. 

Columbus High School

American Creed - Continuing the Conversation

This group consists of student responses to the American Creed documentary from PBS and Citizen Film.

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Writing Our Future: American Creed is part of the National Writing Project’s family of youth publishing projects, all gathered under the Writing Our Future initiative.

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