I had a teacher ask me a few weeks ago if I thought that America was the greatest country in the world. I declined to answer, not because I had no answer but because I did not know quite how to put my thoughts into words. To me, America is more than just a bastion of democracy and an example of federalism. I heartily approve of the sentiments housed in the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence. I enjoy Thomas Paine’s Common Sense and his denunciation of the summer soldier and the sunshine patriot. I find hope in the optimism of past leaders and peace in the classic patriotic tunes of my childhood. To many, this is America: a coalition of diverse cultures and ideas, together under one government, by the people for the people.
But when I picture America, I don’t picture the Capitol Dome or the White House. I don’t picture the Washington Monument or any of the great edifices on the Mall. I picture the wilderness that spreads across so much of the country. I picture the rivers of the Shenandoah Valley that I canoed with my family, and the towering peaks of the Rockies that I climbed with my brothers. I picture the breathtaking views that were a part of my childhood in the Catskill Mountains. I picture the beauty of the Teton mountain range and the bison that live on the plains below. I picture the eagles that soar above Yellowstone Lake. I picture the glacial lakes of Maine and the fascinating rocks that decorate their clear surfaces. I picture the maple trees I climbed as a child and the streams I learned to fly-fish in. To me, that is America – the splendor that was here before Thomas Jefferson first set pen to paper.
I will be attending the United States Naval Academy next year, preparing to become an officer in our military. Countless people have asked me why I made my decision; have asked me why I would give up the next nine years of my life when there are so many opportunities elsewhere for me. It’s quite simple really. America’s landscape is as diverse as her people, from the hill country of Texas, to the fields of Indiana, to the Appalachian Mountains and through fly-fishing, I have come to love every inch of it. I believe that we are the stewards of this great nation – in more ways than one – and I want to make protecting our beautiful country my life’s work.