Emily Elizabeth Bradley of Conway is the winner of the Good Citizens Essay contest sponsored by the Cadron Post Chapter, National Society Daughters of the American Revolution.

She won a cash prize of $100 for her essay, "Our American Heritage and Our Responsibility for Preserving It: How Does One’s Personal Heritage Affect One’s Duties to Our Nation?" Her essay will now be judged on the state level.

Bradley is a daughter of Mark and Renee Bradley of Conway and is a senior at Conway High School. Her essay is printed below.

"Our American Heritage and Our Responsibility for Preserving It: How Does One’s Personal Heritage Affect One’s Duties to Our Nation?"

In her famed short story "Eleven," author Sandra Cisneros recalls realizing on her birthday that she was not just eleven, but also "ten and nine and eight and seven and six and five and four and three and two and one." Like Cisneros, Americans are not just American, but also French and African and Japanese and Mongolian and Brazilian and English. We are colonists and dignitaries and slaves and tribal chiefs and Manifest Destiny seekers and so much more. Each American has a unique heritage, a personal and familial history that affects the way that they view themselves and the world around them, and as a result of that heritage, each also has a unique opportunity to contribute to the quality of the nation that he or she now calls home.

Personal heritage is at the root of this nation’s founding. The leaders of the American Revolution and writers of the Constitution were so driven to "create a more perfect union" because of lessons learned from their shared British heritage. They directly experienced the effects of a monarchial corruption and because of this experience felt a duty to establish a new government so that future generations would not endure the same hardships. Seeking to create a nation free from the flaws of their home country, these early patriots promoted democracy, a free market economy, and, to some extent, equal opportunity. These same values are what continue to make the United States one of the most prosperous nations in the world.

Like the founding fathers, today’s citizens also have a duty to apply their unique heritages to the prosperity of this nation. Whether a first generation immigrant or a pure-blood Sioux, a lab technician or an army colonel, each American is socially responsible for the improvement of the country he or she calls home. Every individual’s history offers lessons to share, lessons that cry out to be heard before they are lost. This might be in the form of social activism, calling attention to overlooked injustices, or history and culture preservation. It might require running for a political office or protesting in the streets. In essence, each American’s patriotic duty is the same, but it is personal heritage that determines the true meaning of its fulfillment.

As a country of immigrants and a participant in international politics, cultural awareness is the key to the functioning of the United States. Because of their varying backgrounds, citizens often do not see eye to eye, but ironically it is those same backgrounds, those unique personal heritages that have an enormous potential to increase this cultural insight. Just like Cisneros, all Americans must realize that they have not just one identity, but many, and tap into each of those identities to help others better understand and appreciate the diversity surrounding them.

I am not just a teenager; I am just not a student; I am just not an American. I am a culmination of my past, of both my personal experiences and the history of my family. Because of my unique background, I, like every other American, have a duty to contribute to the future prosperity of my country in a way that only I can do. I must follow in our founding father’s footsteps, learn from my past, and build a better future.