What the Constitution means to me
This Valley student took first place in Sonoma’s “Voice of Democracy” essay contest, sponsored by the Veterans of Foreign Wars. The theme of the essay contest was “Is the Constitution Still Relevant?”
It is the Year of Our Lord 1788. I am a young woman who has just come of age, working as a servant in Virginia. The master speaks of a document called the Constitution that was recently ratified. I’m not sure exactly what this means. But I wonder, how is the Constitution relevant to me?
The year 1864 is the Year of Jubilee. I’m 16-years-old, and have been toiling on the cotton fields of this Mississippi plantation all my life. Two years after President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, the Senate has passed the 13th Amendment. Now, I’m a free woman. Where do I go from here?
What a bully year, 1919! I am a 16-year-old factory girl in New York. Mama came home a while ago, and told me the Senate just passed the 19th Amendment. Us girls finally got the vote. How is this relevant to me?
The year is 1954. I am a 16-year-old African-American high school student living in Little Rock, Ark. The Supreme Court just ruled on Brown vs. the Board of Education, ending segregation in schools. How is that relevant to me?
It is now 2012. I really am a 16-year-old girl, and an enthusiastic high school student living in California. What does the Constitution mean to me?
It means everything.
The Constitution means that in two years, I will be able to vote and have a say in the government and laws that influence my life. It means that my Latino, black and Asian friends will have the same opportunities that I do. It means that we are protected equally under the law, and are free to pursue our goals and dreams – free to give back to our great nation. It means that every single person in this country has the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
The stories of those 16-year-old girls, and my story, are the stories of this country. Our experiences have shaped the past, and will continue to shape the future of our nation.
The United States has had some dark times. Times of war and slavery, times where the inalienable rights of its citizens have been threatened. But the Constitution of today is different from the one of yesterday, even though it may look the same on paper. The Constitution is unique in its ability to adapt to the society it governs through the amendment process, and the Supreme Court’s interpretation of its words. Since its ratification in 1788, this document has expanded to accept women as equals through the 19th Amendment. The Supreme Court decision in Brown vs. the Board of Education established that every child in this country has the right to an education, and equal opportunity, regardless of race, creed, or gender.
The Constitution will always be relevant, because it will continue to grow and mature, just as the citizens of this great nation grow and mature. As the population has learned to accept and encourage gender and racial diversity in our government, so has our Constitution.
Imagine what those 16-year-old girls from years past would think if they could be here today – to see that the rights and privileges our founding fathers, bestowed upon us through the Constitution, have been extended to every citizen regardless of race, gender, or economic status, truly giving us a nation of equality, a nation of freedom and a nation of justice.
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Delaney Gold-Diamond is a junior at Sonoma Valley High School where she is a member of the forensic and mock trial teams.