2023 Independence Day Writing Challenge

Ironmaster house with celebration bunting
Ironmaster House 4th of July

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Over the month of April 2023, Hopewell Furnace National Historic Site, in collaboration with the Friends of Hopewell Furnace, accepted essay submissions from middle and high schoolers in 16 of the local school districts. They were prompted with the question: What does the phrase “created equal” mean to you?

Below are the top three finishing submissions from both the Middle and School categories. Along with cash prizes provided by the Friends of Hopewell Furnace, their essays will be read at the annual Independence Day commemoration ceremony at 2pm on July 4th in the park.

High School Group

1st Place – Simran Sahoo

Downingtown STEM Academy

I constantly question why, if we all are supposedly created equal, have been fighting since the beginning to prove our equality. Why have our history textbooks served as not just portals into the past but warning signals of how quickly our land can split into two? Why must African American children huddle around their mothers desperately wondering why the golden rule - treat others the way you want to be treated - applied to them, but not their classmates? And why do I, to this day, shudder every time the TV flickers to the evening news channel, terrified to glimpse which sobbing sister I will see hunched over the body of an innocent child whose skin color forced her to be in the wrong place, wrong time, every single day?

The phrase “created equal” serves to remind me, that while we all entered the world with voices that could only murmur unintelligible gurgles, some of us grew up to use our voices to hurt those that do not look like them. That while we all waved around our tiny fists, unable to defend ourselves from people’s cooing and poking, some of our hands learned how to perfectly fit around a gun to wield against strangers. That while we all immediately fell to the ground after taking our first steps, some of us left them all alone when they tried to stand back up. Because even though we were all born equal, nothing stops individuals from refusing to treat each other as such.

The Fourth of July commemorates America’s bravery in breaking away from Great Britain’s clutches. We celebrate those colonists and Founding Fathers whose battles have paved the path for this ground that we so proudly stand on. The fireworks that will crackle across the skies of fifty different states are as loud as the gunshots that allowed us to become our own country with our own ideologies and our own democratic system.

Yet how can we openly honor the history of our country when our present is so flawed? How can we look into the eyes of our fellow neighbors and celebrate a holiday that seems to exist for only a select few in our nation and reminds marginalized groups of the joy they cannot partake in?

The phrase “created equal” follows me to my biology class where I sit and pore over skeletal diagrams of body anatomy, and take detailed notes about cellular respiration. It lingers on the living room table as I shuffle through flashcards of the 8 characteristics all living things need to survive, wondering where the cards “equality” and “kindness” went. It haunts me in my sleep as I lie awake, wondering how we all possess the same biological components and are made of the same substances, but only some of us feel safe in our country.

What gives me hope, however, is that there are still so many of us that live life with kindness, and so, we all have the power to be kind.

2nd Place Abigail Smith

Owen J. Roberts High School

Equality of Man and Nature

Equality is balance: the balance of the solid, undefined land and the turbulent waves in the curious oceans. The fresh, blooming flowers are equivalent to the solid, towering trees. The balance of nature is equivalent to the equality of man, for the existence of man is nature itself. The transcendentalism and enlightenment ideals in Ralph Waldo Emerson’s Self Reliance establishes the importance of independent thought, which pushes individuals to stand against conformity. Each human being carries a unique set of qualities, abilities, and talents; these people act as puzzle pieces, working together to create one beautiful picture.

All men are created equal, no matter the race, gender, income, or religion of the individual. When this equality is abused, perseverant catalysts protest, boycott, write, and speak in order to work towards the equality inherently found in nature. In Martin Luther King’s, “Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” King explains the difference between just and unjust laws. Just laws are laws that are to be followed, for they protect the rights and the safety of American citizens while unjust laws are meant to be broken through direct action and civil disobedience. Brave individuals fought for the establishment of legislation that protects the equality of all people. With relentless work, civil rights activists pressured congress to pass The Fifteenth Amendment, The Civil Rights Act of 1964, and The Voting Rights Act of 1965. Without these brave souls the words “created equal,” in the Declaration of Independence, would just be pretense.

Like long, stretching branches of a tree, The United State’s representative democracy is separated into branches: executive, legislative, and judicial. As explained in Federalist Paper 51, the government must be given power to govern the people, but also the power to govern themselves because if men were angels, no government would be necessary. This structure of government allows the expression, “created equal,” to be upheld by protecting against the tyranny of the majority and sustaining minority rights. The judicial branch includes the supreme court, which uses judicial review in order to uphold The Constitution: the supreme rule of the land. In Brown v. The Board of Education, the precedent of “separate but equal,” established by Plessy v. Ferguson was overturned, for the inherent separation of race is harmful to creation and equality of man.

Martin Luther King also believed that it was the oppressed that needed to fight for their rights since the oppressor never grants equality without pressure. Women not only had to fight for their right to vote and to education, but also for the right to be themselves. I am so grateful for the women that fought for my right to vote with the implementation of the 19th Amendment and the equal opportunities I have access to with the passage of Title IX.

The sun is equivalent to the moon and predators are equivalent to prey. The world works in a perfect balance, and man must follow because nature and human nature are more alike than people may think.

3rd Place - Christopher Landis, Jr.

Daniel Boone High School

The circumstances under which Jefferson and the other founders penned the Declaration was one of much turmoil and concern in the colonies. The document was an open rebuke on the far-off government of Great Britain, and aired many of the grievances felt by the colonists. Sitting in the opening lines of this document is perhaps its most powerful line. "All men are created equal". In only five words, the founders created the ideal for a nation that would go to not only break from its oppressors, but bring ideas of personal liberty to the rest of the world. To me, this line not only explains a fundamental importance of humanity, but also creates the single most defining principle of a nation that became a bastion of freedom and liberty.

For hundreds of years before the founding of the United States, the feudal system had dominated much of the world. This system created a structure where the many were ruled by the few, and class was the defining trait of a person. In five words, this line rejects this long-held system with a "self-evident" truth, the common humanity of all. A commonality that transcends the class or status of an individual, it gives a voice to humanity, a voice which exclaims joy at the liberty and freedom of all. The line both strengthens humanity as a whole, tying everyone together under the banner of personhood, but in the same breath glorifies the individual. It gives each the same freedoms and liberties as every other, but also gives each individual the freedom to live a life that disregards class, race, economic status, and all else. This duality is what makes those words so powerful, it unites but doesn't control, embraces but refuses to crush. It was this ideal that went on to guide the policy of the nation that emerged from it, and throughout its history America has been looked at as a land of escape from tyranny and a stalwart defender of the equality of all.

Middle School Group

1st Place – Archisha Chakraborty

Lionville Middle School

What is True Equality?

The phrase "created equal" is a fundamental principle that has been enshrined in the Declaration of Independence. To me, it means that every human being is born with inherent worth and dignity, regardless of race, gender, religion, or any other characteristic. It means that everyone should have an equal opportunity to pursue their dreams and aspirations without facing discrimination or prejudice.

In practice, however, not everyone is treated equally. Discrimination and prejudice still exist in our society today. The fight for equality is ongoing and requires continuous effort from all individuals.

To this day, women occasionally work different positions than men, jobs like maintaining the workplace. Some people refuse to accept people of different cultural backgrounds, people of color, or people with different religious beliefs. There were wars to allow freedoms to be shared with everyone equally, thus lives were lost, yet some people still do not get the same rights. Often, they are modified by people who are not as mindful of true inclusivity.

To truly live up to the principle of being "created equal," we must work towards eliminating discrimination and promoting inclusivity. We must strive to create a world where everyone has access to the same opportunities like education, healthcare, employment, and basic human rights. When the above listed is properly executed, we will officially have a "more perfect union".

2nd Place – Yunni Wawrzyniak

Marsh Creek 6th Grade Center

Being created equal are words tossed around every day. But I wonder all the time, if they are intended to be true. I find it sad that we need to teach this world that diversity isn’t a bad thing, when the outcome is only a tiny portion of people accepts others being different. I am Asian, and at eleven years old, I have not yet reached my wise peak. However, I remember when I was younger and I heard of the killing of George Floyd. The first thing that swam into my mind was, “Oh, good thing I’m not black.” And as much as I regret that now, what I was realizing then was something else: I am Asian. This snap of reality brought uncertainty, and doubt with it, nothing like I had ever felt before. I remember thinking that I looked nothing like the rest of my family, and I took this in as if I was lower, in a way, to them. I like to think of racism as a wave that crashes on the sandy shore. It comes unexpectedly, and leaves just as fast. You could look and think “Oh it’s the same as always” when really the power is still there, left in empty air. This is how I feel when I think about not being white. Being called “Ching Chong” or getting teased for my almond eyes. Those sad, racist, people help me realize that even though I will never be white, with blond hair and blue eyes, that I am me, and that is even better. I have learned that people will point out any difference and say it’s a flaw. Being created equal means that you don’t doubt yourself in this world, just because you have a different race or ethnicity.

3rd Place – Nithya Vanacharla

Lionville Middle School

The phrase “created equal” is something that has brought and continues to bring millions of people across the world to America. Within these millions of people are my two immigrant parents. At the young age of 24, they both immigrated to the United States of America. They wanted to provide the best life for their kids and future generations. But, most of all, my parents wanted their children to have the same opportunities as the other kids in the United States. America is known for its constitution which states “all men are created equal”. To my Indian parents, that is what mattered the most. The idea that no one person had utmost control over them was incredibly appealing. It did not matter whether my parents were wealthy or white, their kids would be put into the same daycares as everyone else. Rather, it all depended on your talents and abilities.

To me, the phrase “created equal” is the assurance that no one has a higher value than me solely based on where they come from. What truly matters is the work you put in and what you show the world. That is what led my parents here, and it’s one of the main reasons why I’m living in America. It’s the reason why I get to go to a good school and get a great education. It’s why I can walk around my neighborhood park alone or with friends, and not worry about danger. Without America being “created equal”, my life would have started in India, where day-to-day living conditions are drastically different. I would not have had so many of the amazing opportunities I have gotten to experience in my life thus far, such as having the opportunity to participate in essay contests, like this one.

2022 Writing Contest winning submissions

Last updated: May 28, 2023

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