The Firefighter Christopher Santora Educational Scholarship Fund Website

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Matthew Berkhout:
2005 Winner
FDNY Engine 298

Matthew Berkhout

Winning Essay

Throughout the history of the United States of America, our nation has kept a strong democratic tradition. In a democracy, the power to rule is not in the hands of one or even a few powerful individuals, but rather in the hands of the people. A democracy has the welfare of the common man as its greatest concern, and utilizes governing power to benefit the masses.

In America, we hold the democratic ideal very high, and use a democratic form of government to run our nation. The United States of America is a constitution-based federal republic; that is, a government with multiple levels and separation of powers, in which officials are elected by the people to represent them in the decision making process. Our federal republic is considered to be constitution-based because the bedrock of our government lies in the U.S. Constitution. We, the people, have the right to elect officials we believe will best represent our ideals, dreams, and visions for the nation. This is to ensure that it is the will of the people that is carried out by the government. Through the Constitution and electing officials, we allow ourselves the rights and freedoms that make the United States the great nation that it is.

Americans experience a free, democratic lifestyle, and often take it for granted. However, there are people in many nations that do not enjoy the same rights that we enjoy. A lifestyle without these rights often takes place under forms of government other than democracy. In an Absolute Monarchy one (often a King) rules a nation unchecked and with limitless power over his people. A monarch rules for as long as he pleases, despite the feelings of the people. A monarch has no check on his power; he can lead the nation in whatever direction he pleases. While the American people have the right to elect a new official for each position at the end of every term, people living under a dictatorship are stuck with a monarch indefinitely. The monarch can restrict and deny the rights and freedom of anyone in his nation, regardless of motivation. We, as Americans are protected from these atrocities by the Bill of Rights. Those living under a monarchy are guaranteed no rights, freedoms or protection from the government. A historical example of a monarchy is France in the 18th Century. Louis XVI was the King, and the nation was in turmoil. The people has no legal right to change the government or force the kind to curb his extravagant spending at the expense of the people. They were so outrages and abused they had no choice but to resort to violence. The French people revolted, sent Louis XVI to the guillotine and instituted a Republic to rule the people.

Communism is another form of government under which the people have no rights, possibly even more so that under a monarchy. In a communist country, the government attempts to have all people be equal not only under the law, but in every way. In order to do, the government controls every facet of life: employment, home, family size and location, and even the clothes the people wear. In an attempt to make all men equal, rights and the flavor of life are taken form the people. Even after taking such great measures for equality, none are truly equal, leaving the communist system failure.

Since the people have the power in a democracy, they also have responsibilities. With so much resting on their decision, the people need to make sure that make good decisions for the future nation. Each citizen has the ability to stay informed. Without up-to-date knowledge of what is going on at home in America as well as elsewhere in our shrinking global community, it would be impossible to make good political decisions. Americans also have the responsibility to take part in the decision making process. The people must vote in a democracy. Without voting, the system simply does not function. Voting is the privilege, right and responsibility that belongs to Americans. Citizens in a democracy need to speak out. We in America have freedom of speech. If we do not tell the government that we do not agree with the actions it is taking, how will the government know? We need to be informed ourselves, and then inform the politicians how we feel about the issues that are important to us. Without protest and demonstration, who knows how much longer we would have occupied Vietnam? Dissent is absolutely critical in a democratic nation. Finally, citizens of a democracy have the responsibility to think. It may seem obvious, but independent thinking is what drives democracy. With all that the American people are fed through mass media and pop culture, not many American hold their own opinions. Everything we think and believe has been taught to us by one celebrity or another. We need to use our own minds to formulate our own opinions, and not rely on those force fed to us by the government and the media.

I am proud to be an American. There is a certain element of nationalism that will never leave me, under any circumstances. I enjoy more freedom that I could in any nation on the globe. I am a member of the wealthiest, best educated society in the world. Certainly I am proud to be an America. However, there are limits, and being proud of the nation I live in does not mean I condone all of the actions taken by the American government. I especially disagree with the excessive use of our nations military might under the Bush administration. I wish God speed to our brave, honorable soldiers overseas, but I strongly feel that they should not be away from their homeland. War and military conflict is something that should be avoided at all costs. I feel that George Bush does not have the respect for human life that he claims he does, based on his actions. 1498 lives of the American military have been lost in the Iraq conflict. Each of these men and women had families and friends who will never be the same. For what? The troops on the ground in Iraq are there under false pretenses. President Bush is quoted stating knowledge of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq prior to invading the nation of Iraq. We now know that there are not, nor have there ever been weapons of mass destruction in the hands of the Iraqi government. Why did we really invade Iraq? I believe that American people have been taken for fool over the past two years, and I am ashamed that I am one of many who allowed it to happen. I am ashamed of the actions taken by the government “representing” the American people. I am ashamed to know that nearly half of the American nation still supports a man with such low regard for the American Soldier, economy and tax dollar, as well as global peace. I will always be proud to be an American, but I certainly am not proud of our leader not the actions he has taken.


We would like to wish Matthew Berkhout the best of luck moving on to St. Joseph’s College. Congratulations!

My name is Matt Berkhout, I’m 19 years old and I live in Mastic Beach, NY. I recently graduated with an Associate’s Degree in Liberal Arts from Suffolk County Community College and plan to continue my education at St. Joseph’s College. I love the sciences as well as history and philosophy. Over the next fours I plan to earn Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in education, and then begin a career in teaching Chemistry and Biology to high school students.

In addition to learning and teaching, my true passions include the beach, skiing, music, life guarding on the ocean, going out on the boat, and spending time with friends and family. When I’m not at work or school, you can find me surfing, water skiing, fishing or playing the guitar. I love music, and enjoy listening to many genres from many time periods.

As much as I love each of the things I have mentioned above, one thing stands supreme: family. I have the greatest family in the world. Huge, hilarious, loving, caring, supportive, selfless and fun are just a few adjectives that come to mind. My parents, brother, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins are the wind in my sails.

I would like to thank God and my parents for all the opportunities they have provided me with; I know that no one has been set up for success as well as I have. Now I can only hope to continue to take advantage of those opportunities. I would also like to thank my father, and the rest of the FDNY and all firefighters, police officers, and armed forces for the service and protection they provide for Americans across the nation.

Finally, I would like to thank Mr. and Mrs. Santora for helping me and many others along the journey of education and keeping alive the name of their son, who will forever be remembered a hero. God Bless.

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