Guest Column: What the American flag means to me

Jesse White

By Jesse White
Illinois Secretary of State

This Fourth of July, Americans of differing ethnic backgrounds, political persuasions and geographic locations will celebrate the 236th birthday of the United States of America. Many will fly the American flag in patriotic tribute. The American flag unites us as a nation; it brings out a multitude of meanings and emotions to Americans nationwide.

The American flag means to me a tapestry of sacrifice, opportunity, volunteerism, liberty, privilege, responsibility and appreciation.

As a former paratrooper in the U.S. Army’s 101st Airborne Division and as a member of the Illinois National Guard and Reserve, I admire and cherish the sacrifice, bravery and heroism that our men and women in the armed forces display each and every day, whether at home or in hostile environments. The American flag represents the selfless sacrifice of these true heroes, whether it is hoisted up in a field of battle or unfurled above a baseball field.

As a Chicago public school teacher and administrator for 33 years, I spent a portion of each morning reciting the Pledge of Allegiance, hand over heart, before the American flag. On many occasions, I would think of the students in my classroom, many of whom came from economically disadvantaged neighborhoods and, while looking at the American flag, I would think: any of these students, so long as they properly apply themselves, can accomplish great things; they can be whoever they wish to be. Indeed, many of my former students, as well as former members of my Jesse White Tumbling Team, have gone on to become American success stories. They have become lawyers, engineers, teachers, athletes, fire fighters, police officers — the list goes on and on.

The American flag means to me volunteerism. Americans are blessed with a kind and giving spirit; when we become successful, we find ways to give it back to those less fortunate.

The American flag means to me liberty, that we are the privileged few who live in a nation that gives each and every one of us the opportunity to strive for greatness in whatever field or endeavor we wish to pursue.

The American flag means to me the responsibility we bear to ensure the United States continues to prosper and continues to give hope to those who wish for a better way of life. From all regions of this great nation, we often honor the American flag with a salute and a rendition of the Star Spangled Banner. This tradition underscores the powerful and emotional importance of the American flag to us as a nation, undivided.

Lastly, the American flag means to me a profound appreciation to those departed who helped shape the United States of America — the greatest country in the world — so that it would be, as President Abraham Lincoln famously resolved at Gettysburg: “a government of the people, by the people, and for the people.”

From the July 4-10, 2012, issue

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