Sophie Mennenga, a Morris Community High School student, believes engaging this generation of young people might be difficult, but crucial.
“Our country is experiencing one of its most rapid periods of change,” she wrote in an essay, “and as citizens of the United States, it is our job to make sure that the upcoming leaders of tomorrow are educating themselves, acting on what they believe in, and spreading that same energy and involvement to others.”
Sophie’s essay was written in response to a question posed to her and others from three Grundy County high schools. The question was, “You and your peers are our nation’s leaders of tomorrow. How would you energize America’s youth to fully engage as effective citizens? Why is that important?”
She read the essay this week to the members of the Alida C. Bliss Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution, DAR, as one of the winners of the group’s Good Citizen Award and Scholarship.
The two other winners were Taylor Bartels of Gardner-South Wilmington High School and Cody Rogers of Coal City High School. Minooka Community High School did not participate in the competition this year.
Sophie also shared that as an 18-year-old, she will uphold her civic duty and vote in future local and national elections.
“I have faith that our generation can lead America to great things,” she read. “As a proud citizen myself, I hope to uphold my responsibility to inspire change and pave the way for future leaders.”
“There are so many people in today’s world who don’t know what a good citizen is,” D.A.R. member and organizer of the Good Citizen Award Carol Narvick said. “We just feel that in a small way, it’s something our club can do to promote that.”
Narvick said this year’s essays were “top notch,” and the judges had a difficult time determining the best ones.
Taylor Bartels was the winner from Gardner-South Wilmington High School and wrote in her essay that understanding our country’s hard-fought battles for freedom will help today’s youth become better leaders tomorrow.
“Every American citizen needs a broad range of knowledge on the history of our outstanding country,” she said, “to truly acknowledge how important it is to play an active role in his or her community.”
Taylor said recreating historical events can help students better visualize the hardships our country’s founders faced and their dedication and persistence.
“If they watched the American Revolution play out in from of them. . . saw the destruction of communities and families, watched the treacherous battles and cleaned the aftermath of the war themselves,” she read to the D.A.R. members, “they would be able to appreciate our country’s liberty that sets us apart from others around the world.”
Cody Rogers, of Coal City High School, said perspective is the key to changing the world. He said he realized this as he spent days ill in Guatemala where he traveled to work to document the lives of coffee farmers. He spent his bed-ridden time writing.
His perspective of the world changed during that trip, he said.
“After writing the fourteen page rant in Central America,” he said, “not only did my fingers hurt, but I realized what my true passion was: helping others find what they are truly passionate about, their desired human potential and how they can make it a reality. . . The message that I convey is this, when you change your perspective, you change the world.”
Cody said he will use that realization to fight political apathy and engage our country’s youth.