When I think about America's history, one word comes to mind: sacrifice. It's at the heart of what our country was founded on. The Declaration of Independence wasn't written by men who lay comfortably on their couches, waiting for the world to change. No; they deliberated and debated -- they sacrificed their well-being to stand up in the face of the strongest military power in the world, proclaiming that they would no longer accept tyranny. They preached the words of freedom, and like priests from a pulpit, they gathered their flock. These men fought and many died in their revolution, a bloody offensive to show the world that democracy reigned supreme.
When the men and women of this great nation were called to the draft in 1940, they knew the sacrifice they were about to make. World War II was not won by high-ranking officials in their offices.
It was won by men like my grandfather, men who flew bombers over the Pacific and stormed blood-soaked beaches in the Atlantic. Men who cut through malaria-infested jungles, island-hopping through humid rain forests and meeting ruthless opposition, men who lay in muddy, bloody, 5-foot-deep foxholes, praying they weren't the next target of the thunderous shells striking the ground around them.
And more recently, those who traveled across the world to brave the deserts of the Middle East, striving to preserve liberty for people they would never meet and fighting an unseen force hellbent on tearing apart all that we hold dear.
But our history has not only been shaped by heroes who sacrificed their lives for our freedom or brilliant men and women whose talents sent the first man to the moon.
Our history has been shaped by both the extraordinary, and the ordinary.
It is my great-grandparents who left their homeland and traveled thousands of miles by sea to this country hoping that they could give their children and grandchildren a better life.
It is the blue-collar coal miner who clutches his lunch pail and descends into the cavernous abyss every day, praying that he'll return unscathed while barely making enough to make ends meet.
It is the teacher in the city school where funding is scarce, yet she still breaks through barriers and her students succeed.
These sacrifices, while seemingly small, have filled in the blanks between the milestones and dates that outline our history books. Without the ordinary, the extraordinary would cease to exist.
If the history of our proud nation means sacrifice, then our future must mean sacrifice as well. I was born into a generation of people who, for the most part, do not know what true sacrifice is.
Among my peers, pretty much everything is handed to us, from a cellphone to even a car.
We want for nothing. Yet, we yearn for more. We tend to focus on the Pursuit of Happiness -- and forget where Life and Liberty have come from.
I believe it is my duty, as a citizen of the United States, to take a step back and look at the big picture.
I must ask myself, "What can I do so that those with less than me might have more?"
The inspiring Martin Luther King said: "Human progress is neither automatic nor inevitable. Every step toward the goal of justice requires sacrifice, suffering and struggle; the tireless exertions and passionate concern of dedicated individuals."
I think that many people today feel like they can't make a difference in the world.
But that's simply not true. Look back through our history: Sacrifice comes in many forms, both big and small.
I think sometimes we back off from doing the "big thing" and end up doing nothing at all.
But we can all dedicate ourselves to something small. And when added together, this will make the building blocks of our future. Whether it be volunteering at a local food bank or homeless shelter, or mentoring a fellow student.
We must find a passion, start out small, and this will lead to big things -- to historic things.
We may stumble and struggle and even suffer along the way. But we must never give up.
America's story is one of perseverance, struggle and sacrifice.
We are a country made up of many ordinary men and women whose individual choices are creating the culture and impression that will write the pages of our history books.
America's history is alive in each and every one of us. It is our sacrificial duty to carry the torch that has been handed to us and see to it that the ideals of Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness are preserved for future generations.