Elise Topazian: Looking back helps one see the way forward

The word "forward" elicits pictures of inspirational speeches and movement in my mind. I think of JFK telling America "ask not what your country can do for you…" or Martin Luther King Jr. rallying thousands with "I have a dream." "Forward" was President Obama's one-word re-election slogan.

Every election cycle promises new beginnings, and every candidate says that they want to move America forward. They explain that we don't want to move backwards (as if someone would object). Year after year, the message is forward, forward, forward.

It sometimes seems as if the only change is the tone with which the speaker spits the word out. With all our forward movement, why isn't our country leaping into greatness?

In my Spanish class at Century, my teacher gave us an assignment: Research the Spanish Civil War. To be honest, this seemed like a pretty monotonous task at first (after 12 years of school and countless projects, I was tired of researching).

But as I started learning about the United States' involvement in the war, I became more and more invested in the project. Our country was severely divided over whether or not to get involved, and the political state of the world at the time was at a tipping point.


Why hadn't I learned about this earlier when studying communism, fascism and the history of other countries? Students shouldn't be spending their nights memorizing facts about our history. We should be spending our nights digging deeper, investigating the ideologies behind decisions made, the viewpoints of the people that changed our society.

This is how America will move forward. This is how citizens emerge that aren't apathetic about their country or disinterested in government. We need people that will motivate our country to action.

And this type of person is growing up now. These people are going to schools across the country. In fact, they are probably sitting in math or science, English or history classes as you read this. Five hundred and thirty five of them will be our congressmen down the line, and a few will be influential world leaders. The young men and women that go unnoticed now are becoming important people.

So we start here. Here, in our own community. Here, where everyone has the opportunity to influence a student. Tutor at an after-school program, mentor a student through Next Chapter Ministries, volunteer at a school library — the possibilities are endless.

It is only in the last couple of years that I have truly become grateful for my education. And still, I don't think I'll realize for a while how profoundly amazing it is that I received 13 years of public schooling. When our country is making leaps and bounds and when my peers are changing the world, I'll be proud to say I did.

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