Finding an Allegiance

Evaluate a significant experience, achievement, risk you have taken, or ethical dilemma you have faced and its impact on you.

After the September 11, 2001 attacks, the United States ceased to be the backdrop to my life and instead became an ideal, a cause, a veritable force. The autumn parade in my town, which had previously been a ragtag band of candy-throwing Girl Scouts and antique car collectors, suddenly became the American Pride Parade, now featuring Uncle Sam on stilts and flag-bearing Knights of Columbus. People wore their political views on their sleeves -- or, more accurately, their bumpers. The 2004 presidential elections only heightened the atmosphere of nationalism and strong political passions.

It was in this environment that I attended my sophomore year of high school, equally absorbed by the political and social changes my country was experiencing and by the literature of my seminar-style English class. Daily we discussed the ideas behind such works as <i>Heart of Darkness</i> and <i>Les Misérables</i> and experienced those sparkling moments of intellectual unity when their relevance to our lives and to society suddenly became clear. My enthusiasm for society’s great books led me to Henry David Thoreau’s “Civil Disobedience,” and I was affected deeply by his notion that citizens are obliged to abstain from...

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