Wheaton High School
Silver Spring, Maryland
First Place Winner, Maryland
The American Dream: Relationships in the Greater Washington
For a long time, I had always believed the American Dream was that pleasant, indescribable amalgam of ambition, opportunity, fortune, talent, and achievement. To me, it was the struggle of men and women of all kinds, hailing from their respective lands, contributing to and partaking in the unique American paradigm while trying to retain what cultures they had. It was the ravenous hunger and soul-consuming desire to “make it big” and set up a future for their families. It was the single term that could contain the passion of the stories of every single immigrant or indigenous person living within the borders of the country. And it, the dream, the notion, shapes who I am today. My parents are what they are because of the American Dream; and it affects me, as I sit here and type this essay.
In my admittedly fleeting sixteen years on the earth, I’ve lived with this definition for an overwhelming majority of them. It was actually just recently where I realized that I forgot one key aspect of the American Dream, and simultaneously the crux of the idea itself: Relationships. The American Dream is held together with relationships. It’s the social binding, the strongest epoxy, and the secret sauce. It’s the most important part of the American Dream. No one can say they’ve made it where they are in their life alone. Coming into a new land and embarking on a journey, it’s a feat that’s impossible to do in seclusion. As John Donne wrote, “No man is an island, entire of itself, every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main.1” It is for that reason that the notion is called the American Dream, not the “Individual’s Aspiration.” It is a collective desire, not a selective or exclusive one. Joseph Campbell outlines in “The Hero’s Journey2” that all characters going on adventures will have mentors, allies, and enemies. My mother, for example, went on her journey to America with her twin sister and worked at a Cheesecake Factory for a number of years, where she established relationships with workers who, after a decade of not seeing her, were able to instantly recognize her. My childhood is speckled with tales of these same warmhearted coworkers who would, in her young adult years, slip food to her in the restaurant, give her raises, and help her get on her feet when she was sick and despondent. Her quest to build a life for herself would have been immensely more difficult without the presence of the people she met along her way. The other aspects of the American Dream remain of course, but unfortunately, a life devoid of the presence of relationships has a future significantly more bleak than one with a support web, a strong network of tight interrelationships.
So, if the American Dream is about relationships and ambition, do I believe that it’s still thriving in Greater Washington?
The entire relational aspect of the American society is facilitated by the diversified nature of the country. Everyone is different in the United States, as the concentrations of certain ethnicities vary depending on location. We have a plethora of citizens from different backgrounds who journeyed to the country to pursue and obtain better futures. The presence of these immigrants who pass down the same sentiments to their children is only conducive to the growth and spread of ambition.
Therefore, I believe the Greater Washington area is one of the areas where the American Dream thrives the most. According to WalletHub’s 2015 study on racial diversity3, four of Maryland’s Montgomery County cities (Gaithersburg, Germantown, Silver Spring, and Rockville) are in the top ten, with Gaithersburg being number one, dominating 312 other high-population cities in the categories of “racial and ethnic diversity” and “language diversity,” and Germantown being number three.
And, in my years of being a student in Maryland, I have never gone to a school where the population is monolithic—or monochromatic, so to speak. No matter what class I go to, be it the upper echelons of mathematics education, the most daunting Advance Placement classes, visiting a brilliant music class or riveting art lesson, or the Information Technology, Biomedical, or Engineering Academies, I’m greeted with faces of both sexes and a wide palette of colors. In the schoolhouse, everyone achieves, no matter where I look. The average college-level class is not of a uniform makeup, for example. At my school, it has a formidable number of African-American students. At another, Asian-Americans are a large percentage of the class, but it has a sizeable White population and a smattering of Hispanics. The students in each class form a good-natured rivalry, thanks to the ethnically diverse education system which inspires the competition and ambition within the students. This diverse environment is one where “above grade level” work becomes the average, and taking higher education classes is considered customary.
More inspiring still is that the prospect of achievement, a key tenet to the American Dream, fails to limit itself to the classroom. In the same fashion as a savage animal, the lion of glory refuses to be subdued in the cage of complacency. Like an airborne virus, success in any sort of form seems to be contagious. Internships in the diverse Greater Washington area are gradually becoming as mainstream as cell phones. Many students in the Montgomery County District, and a large number of my friends have over 100 community service hours, with the most humanitarian acquaintance of mine easily eclipsing 300. A lot of my friends have jobs in various places. One works at a shoe retailer in a mall, another has an office job, quite similar to telemarketing. A third works in the Silver Spring plaza, stacking boxes(and tips.) The drive to make money is palpable, and one reports that he uses a high majority of his profits to pay for college.
Others unknowingly pursue the American Dream in their own ways. One of my closest friends participates in a number of after school academic clubs and competitions, and is mentoring a fellow student in physics, math, and engineering. In doing so, he fosters a relationship, and translates his personal achievements onto his peers. Another companion of mine, one I made in the early stages of freshman year in the toil that was Spanish class, is a swimmer recognized by the state for his speed and technique. By pursuing the things that he has skill at with a thirsty ambition—created from his home life and immigrant descent, he echoes the rest of the American population. Yet another one of my acquaintances, this one slightly less social, has the best programming skill I’ve ever seen in my life. An ability he didn’t know he had until 7th grade, his ability to work with computers, became a facet that defined him. Some acquaintances of mine sing, others write, and a select few are peerless in their dancing talent. The Greater Washington region is a host of many talented individuals, all hungry for success.
The American Dream is the idea that made America the “anomalous” region back in the day. When other countries survived with their generally homogeneous makeup, America was that region that attracted immigrants, a delicious and aromatic stew of different flavors and ingredients and spices and textures. The diversity of the country and the intertwined feelings and beliefs of drive, passion, and greatness led to achievements unique to this country4, such as the cellphone, being the first man on the moon, being first in flight, and the Model T Ford. So, as the Greater Washington region continues to maintain its diverse makeup, a state evidently instrumental in the success of its inhabitants, I believe that the American Dream will thrive here.
1: Hunter, John. "No Man Is An Island Poem." Poemhunter.com. Web. 5 Dec. 2015. <http://www.poemhunter.com/poem/no-man-is-an-island/>.
(While the poem is by John Donne, the link was found on the internet and the article was published by John Hunter.)
2: Campbell, Joseph. "INTRODUCTION." Hero's Journey. Web. 5 Dec. 2015. <http://www.thewritersjourney.com/hero's_journey.htm>.
3: Bernard, Richie. "2015’s Most & Least Ethno-Racially Diverse Cities." WalletHub. 2015. Web. 5 Dec. 2015. <https://wallethub.com/edu/cities-with-the-most-and-least-ethno-racial-and-linguistic-diversity/10264/>.
4: "10 Great American Achievements." History & Headlines. Web. 5 Dec. 2015. <http://www.historyandheadlines.com/10-great-american-achievements/>.