A Reflection on Independence Day
Updated: Nov 15
Czar Alexei Sepe, PHHS '17 and Boston College '21
Co-Creator and Team Organizer, Parsippany College Connect
"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness."
These words, 244 years later, are ingrained in the American consciousness. However, 244 years later, what do these words actually mean?
For me, I have thought long and hard about this year's Independence Day. In the midst of a global pandemic, racial unrest, and a looming election, it is clearly no ordinary Fourth of July. Indeed, some may even say they are not proud to be an American in 2020. Not me.
Today, I have never been as proud to be an American, because of the words above, enshrined on parchment over 200 years ago. In 1776, the Thirteen Colonies faced an uncertain, unsettling future. How was a rag-tag army of untrained militiamen going to fight against the might of an empire? How could thirteen distinct and differing colonies unite and make decisions? Who were we, British subjects? Virginians, New Jerseyans, New Yorkers? Were we "American"?
Now, in 2020, we face a similar unsettled future. We may be asking ourselves serious, important questions. How will I find a job after I graduate? Am I treated equally or unjustly solely by the virtue of my skin color? Will I be able to stay safe and healthy? Is our country living up to all its promises to all Americans? Nevertheless, the universality of the American project, embodied by the Declaration of Independence, was manifested not by stability, but by uncertainty. The Founding Fathers did not know what lied in their future. In fact, all they knew was that if they lost, they would have been charged with treason and hanged. Many Americans (myself included) do not know what lies ahead for our country, and in many respects, our prospects may look bleak. But out of the tumult of revolution, the idea that "all men are created equal" and that we have the right to "Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness," was born. And now, it is being reborn again.
As many may point out, the United States has not, and is still not living up to these ideals. Nonetheless, I believe that the things our Founding Fathers "declared" are in reality things they "aspired" us to be. Though some may argue that the contradictions in this document, like the fact that many of its signers owned enslaved people, discredit the Declaration's rhetoric, I say that this proves how our nation has expanded the definition of equality, liberty, and Happiness in a way that fulfills the forward-facing, aspirational tone of the famous phrase. As Abraham Lincoln said, our country was "dedicated to a proposition that all men are created equal," - that is, a proposition that must constantly be upheld, fought for, and reaffirmed.
As Abraham Lincoln said, our country was "dedicated to a proposition that all men are created equal," - that is, a proposition that must constantly be upheld, fought for, and reaffirmed.
In recent months, our community's activism, whether in person or online, has reassured me that the pursuit of this proposition is alive and well, especially among younger Americans. And it is reassuring that the rights we are celebrating today will be exercised in its most fundamental form at the ballot box come November.
In that sense, I am proud to be an American, even in 2020, and you should be too. In times of uncertainty, change can be made, big or small. For example, Parsippany College Connect would not have been created if it were not for our current circumstances. I hope you view the Fourth of July as I do - not just a day of declaration, but a day of aspiration, of aspiring to forge a better future for the United States.
Enjoy the holiday, and Happy Independence Day!