Calvin Prize Series: MaKayla Foster

The Calvin Coolidge Presidential Foundation established the Calvin Prize for Vermont Youth, for writers aged 19 years and younger currently living or attending school in the state of Vermont.

The first-place prize of $1,500 and the runner-up prize of $500 are awarded for the article, essay or poem under 1,000 words that best answers the prompt of this year’s contest:

What is the correct trade-off between the privileges and responsibilities of citizenship? 2016 marked the 240th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence. It also marks the 90th anniversary of Coolidge’s famous address “The Inspiration of the Declaration of Independence,” delivered in Philadelphia on July 5, 1926.

The Declaration reminds us of the privileges, but also the responsibilities, of citizenship.

A great privilege of American citizenship is the right to equality. This core principle is enshrined in the Declaration. As Coolidge noted, all citizens are equal to one another and all citizens are equal to their government. After all, the legitimacy of the government comes from the consent of the governed. With equality comes freedom – another hallmark privilege of American citizenship. In Coolidge’s time, these points were more controversial than today: women voted for the first time in presidential elections only in 1920, the year Harding and Coolidge were elected. Only in 1924, when Coolidge signed the Indian Citizenship Act, did all Native Americans gain citizenship.

Yet citizenship also requires that citizens assume great responsibilities. Often as president, Coolidge highlighted the responsibility of citizens to vote, and the importance that they be informed voters. In a 1924 radio address he said: “To live up to the full measure of citizenship in this nation requires not only action, but it requires intelligent action. It is necessary to secure information and to acquire education.” Coolidge also believed citizens had a responsibility to learn about and respect America’s institutions of government, telling Congress in 1923: “American institutions rest solely on good citizenship.” Other responsibilities of citizenship that are often cited include: respecting the rule of law, serving in the military, and paying taxes.

The essays, which will appear in The Reader in the coming weeks, were written by five exceptional Vermont students who were selected as semi-finalists and finalists for the 2016 Calvin Prize. The Prize is sponsored by the Calvin Coolidge Presidential Foundation, and made possible by the generous support of National Life Group.

 

MaKayla Foster
Middlebury, Vermont

In 1776, the founders of our nation signed the Declaration of Independence, which promised “that all men are created equal”. During this crucial moment in our history, freedom was valued and American citizens were willing to serve their country in order to keep their hard work from dissipating. Fast forward to the twenty-first century, where cars replace horses, minorities can vote, and a growing ignorance about the proper citizenship responsibilities is plaguing society. In today’s world, our country is weighed down by debt and political strive. Our nation’s focus has shifted from its strong foundation and its qualities are disappearing amongst the lies and greed that continuously spiral into the lives of American citizens. America was founded on the belief that its citizens humbly serve their communities and their country by voting in elections, or helping their neighbors with random acts of kindness. Americans need to uphold these basic responsibilities in order to truly earn the freedom that our founders established 240 years ago.

America was founded on the principle that all citizens serve the nation, either through the military, workforce, voting in elections, or devoting themselves to serving their communities. Currently, those qualities that developed this nation are fogged by individual greed and a lack of understanding about our foundation. The large-scale struggles that America is currently facing, including violence, debt, and war, will begin to positively change if all citizens respect the guiding principles that shaped the nation. In 1924, Calvin Coolidge said, “If there is any failure in respect to any of these principles, it is because there is a failure on the part of individuals who observe them”. Although Coolidge’s statement was issued decades ago, it pertains to our current struggles, because when all citizens do their part by earning and respecting their freedom, national processes will run more efficiently.

American independence was once earned by courageous individuals who believed in “Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness”. This self-governed country defied odds and put the power in the hands of the people, through voting rights. During his 1924 Radio Address, President Coolidge stated that “the immediate and pressing obligation for tomorrow is that each one of us who is qualified shall vote”. Despite the power that Americans have through our voting rights, only 64.6%1 of the American population were registered during the 2014 elections, which is lower than 71.2%2 of registered voters in 2012. With over a quarter of the eligible population unregistered, it is possible that the results do not accurately represent the desires of the nation. Americans collectively have the power to change their country for the better, but this process starts with all eligible voters participating in order to fulfill their duties as concerned citizens.

In addition to voting regularly, responsible citizens strive to assist their neighbors regularly, through random acts of kindness and service. I personally have expressed strong citizenship through my service efforts in my community, and will continue to be a responsible citizen when I vote in the upcoming presidential election. I have volunteered with Operation Christmas Child for over seven years, and have donated hundreds of gift-filled shoeboxes to children in need around the world. Additionally, I organized three years of 4-H Cards for Soldiers at the local fair and, with the help of the community, we donated over 6,000 cards to Soldiers Angels and the Red Cross. Some of the participants were related to service members, like myself, and were extremely appreciative of the project. Serving others agrees with President Coolidge’s opinions towards proper citizenship, because in 1924 he also said, “The only way to be free is to exercise actively and energetically the privileges, and discharge faithfully the duties which make freedom…It is the result of energy and action”. Citizens can easily participate in service projects like these to support their fellow Americans. Although sending care packages to needy children or cards to the troops is not as intimidating as serving on the front line, they offer the necessary support that allows our nation to come full-circle and prosper.

It is the responsibility of American citizens to keep our freedom alive by voting in elections, and serving their country with integrity. During President Coolidge’s time, minorities were allowed to vote, and this milestone was greeted with excitement and further participation at the polls. Currently, American citizens are not utilizing the power that is given to them through voting. Voter awareness is crucial and pertinent, especially with the decline in voter registration. Voting regularly is a heavy responsibility for all eligible citizens, yet the greatest responsibility is that every person, young and old, needs to respect their neighbors, communities, country, and their world. Every person is equipped with various skills, and it is our responsibility to utilize them to our full capability.