Teen-agers talk about their country
Bethel Park, Pa.
Teen-age Americans from many sections of the country gathered here in late June for the annual conference of the National Association of Student Councils (NASC), held this year in Bethel Park, a suburb of Pittsburgh. The conference theme was leadership, and it's likely that many of these young men and women will eventually move into prominent positions in professions, in their communities, and, possibly, in politics. The Monitor asked some of them for their thoughts about their country -- its strengths, its priorities. A second article will record their views on the evolving American family.Skip to next paragraph
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``I went to Europe two years ago and saw lots of things that made me appreciate my own country -- the benefits and the system of government,'' says Todd Bartholomew, a burly high school senior from the farming community of Weiner, Ark., population 750. He's convinced that this country ``works,'' that day in and day out life is ``better and easier'' here.
What about the contradictions, like the persistence of racial discrimination in a country founded on the proposition that ``all men are created equal''?
Todd doesn't deny that inequities exist, but he thinks progress has been made. He looks, for example, at his own state, the site of some famous confrontations during the early days of the civil rights movement. People are getting along, he says, adding, with feeling, ``I'm not prejudiced at all.''
Todd's positive attitude toward his country is typical of that held by all the students interviewed in meeting rooms and during lunch breaks. Patriotism is indeed resurging, if these young Americans are any indication.
What's behind that patriotism?
``With me, it's my family, social life, activities, and freedom -- the opportunity to succeed to the best of one's ability,'' says Heather Eckart, a forthright young woman from Corydon, Ind. Heather's words are quickly seconded by four or five other students.
What sets the United States apart from other nations? Cara Beadling, a student at Bethel Park High School, host to the NASC gathering, emphasizes the conference itself. ``The way we can get together and do something like this,'' she says.
Like a few others here, Todd Bartholomew plans to translate his patriotic instincts into a political career at some point. ``Hopefully, I'm going to get into state politics,'' he says. He'd particularly like to help resolve the difficult agricultural issues facing Arkansas and other states in America's Midwestern heartland.
But doesn't politics have a way of corrupting even the most idealistic people? ``It's a system you have to follow,'' observes Shelley Newlin, from Sewickly, Pa., but she doesn't think that means all politicans are corrupt. Some students, however, pointed to what they felt was one highly corrupting political fact of life in the US. As Dayle Connor, another Bethel Park High School student, says: ``The more money you have, the easier it is to get in [political office].''
Pat Mixon, from Springfield, Ohio, is downright incensed about this. ``There's something we're really messing up on,'' he says, waving an arm to emphasize his point. He recalls asking one of the conference speakers, a particularly impressive one, why he didn't run for office. The man's answer, says Pat, grimacing with disgust, was, ``I don't have the money.''