Thursday, January 23, 2014

Essay Contest Submission by Anneka Winder - 11th Grade

"What lessons should Americans today draw from the Gettysburg Address?"

by Anneka Winder - 11th Grade
We finished the Civil War unit in  US History class right after the whole "Getty Ready" craze to memorize the Gettysburg Address for its anniversary swept the schools in November with their billboard ads posted everywhere and such-- at the time, I didn't participate in it. I'm not big on "memorization"-- what's the point of memorizing a whole slew of words if they're just empty text to me? Instead, I read it over. Thought about the context. Tried to understand why we value this speech as much as we do because clearly it stuck among a menagerie of speeches delivered in this era.

 If we're going to be honest, I still can't recite anything past, "Forescore and seven years ago--" but what does that matter? Memorization means nothing if you can't take something from what you've memorized. After we went through this lesson in US History, I'm beginning to see what modern Americans should have to do with it. It's got nothing to do with memorization, but analysis-- taking the approach in this address to future issues in our country.

 Speeches, it seems, are expected to be long. We get worked up about them. We spool our points with drab bits of prose that don't fit the context, but darn well look nice on paper-- and they add a few minutes on top of that, so we keep them and cannot possibly understand why people are passing out on the stands. The Gettysburg Address, one of the most profound pieces in our nation's history, took four minutes to give. And why is this? Because Lincoln knew the importance of words--plain words-- and he knew where the extent of words must stop for actions to take over.

 The Gettysburg Address no doubt came during a time of mourning-- fifty thousand young men dead, and you're going to have tremendous turmoil in the emotions-- you're going to want consecration, as Lincoln mentions in his speech, for these men who have passed. Yet, Lincoln admits that he has no authority to consecrate this land through his speech-- that the men who fought and died in the battle did that already.

 "The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here," said he, "but it can never forget what they did here." He continues on to add that it was now the living's delegation to finish what these men started so that their deaths wouldn't be for naught. That the time for speaking was over-- and so the Gettysburg Address ended. No frills. No grandiose, hour-long oratory. But he said exactly what the country needed to hear-- that it is our actions which will conclude the war, not our speeches.

  There's something to be learned here-- we, as Americans, can talk about how we think our country's collapsing. We can talk about which politicians we like or dislike, we can talk up politics to a froth-- I've seen it many a time at dinner parties, laying down the issues and then doing nothing about them. But unless we conclude our speech, like Lincoln, and do something about the issues... our talk will be in vain. Our battles, our documents, all that we stand and yell at for hours on the mountaintop will be in vain. We'll be in vain-- and that's more horrendous than not talking at all.

 It is our duty in the name of all those who cannot to sustain our country through actions, and just as the Gettysburg Address-- all the talking in the world will not do that unless we eventually shut our mouths and change it.

 I don't know if the Gettysburg Address was meant to be memorized-- it's certainly a noble point if you do, don't mistake me-- but remember that we don't ever have to give the speech, word for word. We have to learn from it as a nation. And, at the end of the day, the Gettysburg Address was not a pretty speech-- it was an invitation to act and end the war. Lincoln did so after he gave his address, and so must we with current conflicts. Because really, if we don't do anything after speaking, then why in the world did we speak at all?

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