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Matthew Quiñones:
2009 Winner
FDNY Engine 54

Matthew Quiñones

Winning Essay

This past election was unlike any other in recent history – especially in my short lifetime – and it was the focus of the whole nation. The election of 2008 was a memorable one, filled with hope and the anticipation of great change. It was a validation of the dreams of Martin Luther King, the validation of our democratic process, and a validation to the entire world that our system of government works for everyone.

It was a year of new opportunity, with the possibility of a different white house, regardless of which party won. Whether it had been McCain winning, and us having our first ever woman vice president in history, or Obama winning, and being the first ever African American president, it was a landmark election

The election process was very exciting in particular for the youth of America, voters from ages 18-29, because it was finally their chance to be a voice in history, by voting either the first woman or African American into office. This sense of being a part of history may explain Obama’s sweep, having won the youth vote in 19 of 22 states. It was a very passionate election because of current events, such as the whole county being in an economic recession and every voter wanting to make sure the right man was chosen to “repair” America – repair not only our economy, but also our spirit – we were tired of the war, we were tired of President Bush – we were just “tired.”

Along with all the circumstances that were bad, we wanted to prevent another depression, which led voters to favor the person promising to make the biggest changes and ward-off a depression. I believe one reason for this Democratic passion is that many people were interested in the possibility of having a Democratic majority in both houses, which led to vast numbers of citizens voting by both parties. Conversely, the conservative party voted in greater numbers to maintain some balance, but the massive democratic voting did not allow the Republicans to gain an advantage. People wanted a majority house and senate, to guarantee change – when they elected President Obama, he would be able to get his changes passed.

This election affected me on a very personal level in many ways, not only relative to President Obama’s policies. This election was an inspiration to me and any other minority in the country. My being of Puerto Rican descent enticed me to closely follow the race, saying to myself that I can do anything I really want, no matter what my ethnicity or my skin color – nothing is going to stop me anymore. He also showed not only me, but everyone, that change is sometimes the best thing, and we shouldn’t fear it, but embrace it.

I was engaged in the election not only because I wanted to be, but because I had to be. Since this election was so historic, we were assigned, during my “P.I.G” course or participation in government class, to create an election portfolio, tracing the election to its conclusion, watching debates, finding political cartoons, and discussing the issues. I was also interested in the election not because I could vote (I missed the cut off by a month, turning 18 last December), but because I know preparing to attend college and hearing all the increases in tuition, I need to start paying attention to the world around me, if I am going to personally advance myself and change the things I don’t like.

I find the the question: “Is Barack Obama unique or can you compare him to any past presidents?” a dichotomy, because I feel both apply to him. He is absolutely unique, being the first African American President and facing enormous economic, social and political challenges, not seen perhaps in the last 30 - 40 years. While I consider President Obama to be very unique, I can also see myself identifying him with two former presidents; President Franklin Delano Roosevelt and President John F. Kennedy.

Like President Obama, President Kennedy was a “first.” in that he was the first Catholic president during a time when most presidents wee Protestant. Many were concerned about how his Catholic beliefs would influence American politics. Much like President Obama, President Kennedy was viewed as an icon among young people. The young people felt that he was someone that he could relate to. Finally, President Obama and President Kennedy brought young children and fashionable wives to the White House who enchanted the country with their charm.

President Obama can also be likened to President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Both became presidents during a time when the country was facing an economic crisis. Both had specific plans that they wanted Congress to pass immediately after winning the election. President Roosevelt developed the New Deal to help create jobs, just like Obama’s stimulus plan. Both presidents share a “crackdown” attitude, where they know what they want to do, or stop, and go straight for it, with no hesitation or regrets. The primary circumstance they have in common is being involved with a major recession, both during and after their election, and being the first of their kind to be elected. Like President Kennedy, President Roosevelt was also a “first”. He was the first president to hold this office in a wheelchair after having contracted polio prior to running.

President Obama made many promises during his run for office, and I trust him to be a man of his word. Although I do not believe he will be able to overcome everything and keep every promise, I believe he will try his hardest. For example, the biggest and hardest challenge to deal with is the economy. I don’t feel he can fix the economy immediately, as we can see from the stimulus plan he enacted – it is not “failing” but nothing is getting better quickly, either in the stock market or the economy in general. I feel that the economy will right itself by bouncing back on its own, since all things in life bring themselves to a natural equilibrium. As for his tax breaks and increase in jobs, they don’t influence me at this moment, but will greatly influence my future. Right now, I am sure my parents are happy about both.

The most extravagant promises Obama made are related to how he will use renewable resources and, supposedly, by 2050 reduce 80% of greenhouse gas emissions. He also promised millions of green collar jobs, and one million plug-in hybrids on the roads by 2015. As aggressive as some of these promises sound, I think if anyone can accomplish them, it will be him. I feel this way because of the ambition and drive that emanates from him when he speaks, and how quickly he wanted to take action after being elected, and not accepting “no” for a response. For example, during his recent healthcare summit, where he looked straight at his health care allies and said “A clear consensus that the need for health care reform is here and now…” let them understand that “no” was not an option. He is also aware of the Clintons’ failure in their attempt to reform healthcare in that administration, and looked at the lawyers and said, “Those who seek to block any reform at all, any reform at any cost, will not prevail this time around.” President Obama truly wants healthcare for every American at a price they can afford – I believe he is going to accomplish this promise.

One challenge I hope, and believe, he can execute, is his promise to “fix” our system of education. For example, allowing and helping young adults like me to afford a college education, without being in extensive debt for years after graduation. I am selecting schools based on their tuition, not necessarily based on my major, or my desire to attend a particular school. Further, I believe he can also greatly improve the “No Child Left Behind,” program, as well as addressing the dropout crisis. During his recent address to congress, he almost “dared” any American high school student to drop out of school – he essentially stated that dropping out was not an option. He is dedicated to increasing the number of teachers hired and raising the number of students taking AP courses in high school, reaching 50% by 2016. He can do all this for the children of America because he was able to do it for himself. A biracial child, raised by a single mother, he was able to reach amazing heights in education. He is an intellectual man, and is extremely well spoken. President Obama knows the importance of education and how critical it is to our youth, especially having two daughters that have to go through the same system. President Obama, having his daughters to inspire him, has a certain passion added to all the policies he influences. It is evident that children and education are top priorities for him.

I am at the beginning of my life journey. I will be graduating from high school and, hopefully, going to college in the fall. I am also living in the worst economic crisis in our country in the past 50 years. What happens to America now will influence the rest of my life. I pray every night for President Obama – he carries a very heavy burden – the future of every American family depends on his ability to restore our country to better times. I believe in his capability to bring people together – I am betting my future on the fact that he will succeed – I believe my future will be bright!


We would like to wish Matthew Quiñones the best of luck moving on to SUNY Oswego. Congratulations!

My name is Matthew Quinones, and I would like to begin this resume by thanking the Christopher Santora Scholarship Fund for this honor. I am 18 years old and attend Nanuet Senior High School, in Nanuet, New York. I am a Puerto Rican/American, and while my parents and I were born in the United States, our heritage is 100% Puerto Rican.

I began my life living in downtown Manhattan, in an area called “Alphabet City,” and when I was entering 1st grade, my parents decided they wanted to buy a house and we moved to Nanuet. I now live with my parents, and my younger brother, Travis, in Nanuet, while both of my parents still work in Manhattan. My Dad is a fireman in mid-town, and my Mom a stockbroker, in the Wall Street area. Luckily, since I was so young when we transferred from the city to suburbia, it wasn’t too hard for me. It’s as though I always lived in Nanuet. But my grandparents still live in Alphabet City, so I get to go back to my “roots” all the time

I feel that two of the biggest achievements in my life so far were not in the school-room, but in important extra-curricular activities, band and lacrosse. I play the tuba in a concert band, and went to “all county,” where only a handful of band members are gathered, from throughout Rockland County, to perform a concert. I was selected, and participated in this event, seven years in a row. Along with all-county, I also played in NYSMA an evaluation event where we are graded on our playing. I participated in this event for five years, with solos varying in skill-sets, and I scored extremely well for my level.

My biggest passion and the area where I feel I have achieved the most success, is in the sport of lacrosse. I am the captain of the varsity lacrosse team – a team undefeated at home this year - and I am being nominated to play on the senior all star team for the county. Our team won the league championship, being undefeated in the league. Last year I was also named “all-league” and received “honorable mention” all-section.

I have always had a dream, or a vision, of what I wanted to do with my life. Ever since I was little I have loved animals and wanted to be a veterinarian. I will be pursuing a pre-vet/ zoology major in college. I am going to be studying at SUNY Oswego and am looking forward to this new stage in my life. I will also be playing for their lacrosse teams and look forward to competing at the college level, and the challenges that will come with it.

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