The Firefighter Christopher Santora Educational Scholarship Fund Website

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Ethan Stark-Miller:
2014 Winner
Academy of American Studies High School

Ethan Stark-Miller

Winning Essay

The terms hero and legend are used so often that they have become clichés, without much meaning. People tend to use these terms carelessly, assigning them to individuals who do not fulfill their meaning. In their careless use many people have twisted the meanings of the two words together, as if they are interchangeable with one another. In reality a person can be a hero without ever becoming a legend, and vice versa.

There is a clear difference between being a hero and being a legend. A hero is a person that displays characteristics of selflessness, empathy, compassion, and valor. Heroes can often be catalysts for positive change or reform. Some display heroism through devoting their life to a single cause for the benefit of others. A person can become a hero in an instant by putting him or herself in harms way in order to save another. First responders such as fire fighters and police officers are expected to be ready at any time in order to come to the aid of those that are in dire straits. Then there are the every day heroes who provide important services to the less fortunate, and yet labor in virtual anonymity. From Mahatma Gandhi to wealthy philanthropists, heroes walk among us in many different forms.

A person is deemed legendary for a certain amount of fame or notoriety. Legendary people are widely known and recognized by the general public. Many are people that are long deceased but still maintain their fame such as George Washington or Dr. Martin Luther King. Both of these men are legendary for their heroic and revolutionary actions. Another, far different example of a legend is Al Capone, the dominant Chicago crime boss of the 1930’s. Capone was well known for being a powerful gangster. He had a reputation for his cruelty and lack of scruples. Al Capone is most likely the most recognizable crime boss in American history, but he was no hero. He became legendary for the unique actions that distinguished him from others of his time, not for any sort of human compassion. Another example of a notorious legend is Benedict Arnold, the infamous rogue general from the Revolutionary War. While George Washington is remembered for his leadership and bravery, Arnold will forever be remembered for betraying the Continental Army. Heroes and legends are by no means analogous, unless a person becomes a legend via their heroism. These legendary heroes may be responsible for the misconception that heroes are synonymous with legends. Nevertheless legendary heroes are the people that change the world for the better, and give humanity positive aspirations.

Some legends are heroes, but are better recognized for other personal characteristics. One such legendary hero is Theodore Roosevelt, the 26th President of the United States. In the present day, Roosevelt is legendary mostly because he is one of the four faces that are carved into Mount Rushmore. His place on Mount Rushmore clues many people into his prominence but his many accomplishments and influence may not known by many. Beyond that people recognize Roosevelt for his stern foreign policy, which can be summarized in his own words, “speak softly and carry a big stick”. By enacting the Roosevelt Corollary to the Monroe Doctrine, Roosevelt gave the United States exclusive rights to intervene in the affairs of Latin American nations. Over the course of Roosevelt’s presidency he used the Roosevelt Corollary as justification for the United States involvement in the affairs of several countries including the Dominican Republic, Haiti, Venezuela, Nicaragua, and Cuba. Roosevelt is most well known for the building of the Panama Canal. The Columbian government rejected the United State’s offer to lease their land, and build the canal for $10 million, so in response Roosevelt helped incite an insurrection in 1903 that put a new Panamanian government in power. The new government granted the United States permanent possession of the canal region. This type of stern, no-nonsense policy is what gave Roosevelt his legendary reputation. He was the first to establish the precedent that the United States has the right to police the globe.

Roosevelt may have seemed like a big bully from a foreign policy standpoint, but there was much more to the man than his attitude towards foreign affairs. There was one instance in foreign policy where Roosevelt proved himself a hero. The Russo-Japanese war broke out in 1904. The next year Roosevelt invited representatives from both countries to a conference in New Hampshire where a treaty was signed, thus ending the war. While the President received the Noble Peace Prize for this heroic action, Roosevelt’s true heroism lied in his domestic policies.

At the time Roosevelt took office large corporate trusts were abusing their power, and exploiting their workers. Roosevelt championed the heavy regulation of large monopolies, and was the first president to successfully enforce the Sherman Antitrust Act, earning him the nickname “trustbuster”. Roosevelt’s aggressive regulation of business and recognition of the importance of the workingman became known as the “Square Deal”. With the “Square Deal” Roosevelt promised to treat Americans equally and not give any special treatment to a particular group. He supported the right of labor to organize and refused to use federal troops to put down strikes. Roosevelt intervened in the United Mine Workers strike of 1902, by getting management to agree to binding arbitration. This led to a shorter workday and a wage increase for labor. In 1904 the Supreme Court ordered the Northern Securities Company, a large monopoly, be disbanded sparking a large number of anti-trust suits. Using the Sherman Anti- Trust Act Roosevelt filed 43 different trust busting suits. Roosevelt successfully showed big business that they do not have the right to take advantage of people and do as they please. The “Square Deal” was a heroic act, in that it gave the power to regulate business to the government, and recognized the rights of workers.

Another area on the domestic front that Roosevelt championed was the environment and nature as a whole. He started collecting specimens for his own Roosevelt Museum of Natural History around the age of eight. In 1871 he shared several of his specimens with the American Museum of Natural History, which had been co-founded by his father. After being elected to the New York State legislature, Roosevelt donated the bulk of the Roosevelt Museum of Natural History to the Smithsonian Institute. He played a significant role in the preservation of Yellowstone National Park, which despite its designation was still being exploited. Once in office President Roosevelt created the Pelican Island Bird Reserve, and he created 50 more such refuges. Roosevelt established the Federal Reclamation Service, which created arable land in areas that had once been too dry to farm. In 1905 Roosevelt created the Bureau of Forestry, which was responsible for protecting timberlands from being cut down in order to preserve soil and decrease erosion. Without Roosevelt’s tireless protection of natural locations in the United States, sites like the Grand Canyon, Muir Woods, and Yosemite National Park might not exist.

It goes without saying the Roosevelt’s contributions to nature were among his most heroic acts. He was a forward thinker who understood the importance of keeping the natural world intact. If Roosevelt had not taken such a progressive stand to preserve the environment, then today’s United States might not have any natural preserves. In current times the United States could use Roosevelt’s courage and intuition by showing the same care for the environment as he did.

Roosevelt will forever be a legend as long as his face sits a top Mount Rushmore. It’s important that people also recognize that Roosevelt performed significant heroic acts during his life. Between his courageous fight against monopolies, and his zeal for natural preservation, the man boasts more heroic deeds than most of our past presidents. He truly was a hero, and will hopefully forever be a legend.


We would like to wish Ethan Stark-Miller the best of luck moving on to Wheaton College. Congratulations!

My name is Ethan Stark-Miller and I just turned 18 years old. I am a college bound high school senior currently attending the Academy of American Studies in Long Island City. In the fall I will be attending Wheaton College, a small liberal arts school located in Norton, Massachusetts. I’m not sure what career I’m going to pursue yet, but some of my interests include biology, economics, health sciences, political science, and pre-medicine. During my time at the Academy of American Studies I have participated in the Improvisational Theater Club each year. Outside of school I developed an interest in documentary filmmaking. I wrote, shot, and directed three short documentaries in the past two years. My second film, which was about my neighbor and the impact he has had on my community, was screened at HBO headquarters in Manhattan. I also worked for a summer film workshop in Brooklyn, called Piper Theater, where I helped young aspiring filmmakers create their own short films. I will be returning to the Piper Theater film program this summer as a film assistant. I enjoy bike riding, hiking and rock climbing. My love for the outdoors led me to volunteer during the last two summers for the Appalachian Mountain Club’s teen trail crew program. This consisted of building and maintaining sections of the Appalachian Trail with other teenage volunteers. These experiences were grueling and a lot of hard work, but also very rewarding.

Even though I go to school in Queens, I live and have always lived in Brooklyn. I reside in a neighborhood called Ditmas Park with my parents and sister, though she is currently attending SUNY New Paltz. I am deeply honored to have been selected for this scholarship and would like to thank the Santora family for their generosity.

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