The Firefighter Christopher Santora Educational Scholarship Fund Website

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Melanie Arias:
2015 Winner
Academy of American Studies High School

Melanie Arias

Winning Essay

As the United States of America progresses and evolves, the understanding of what justice is continues to adjust in meaning as well. America was founded on the ideas and morals expressed in documents such as the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, which includes specific references to the idea that “all men are created equal.” Throughout our nations history, students have recited the pledge of allegiance to remind us of those ideas and morals that we stand on. The pledge of allegiance is a very beautiful saying but it is in a sense vague, as it does not emphasis the parameters in which justice is, or whom justice is meant for. A somewhat accepted definition of the word justice is, fair behavior or treatment. Growing up, I have had many influential voices which have allowed me to carefully articulate my opinion of what justice means. These voices, along with my personal experiences, have led me to believe that justice is treating others fairly and handling a situation without any bias or discriminatory treatment.

The struggle to bring about justice in our nation has been occurring since the moment the Declaration of Independence was signed by the 56 delegates in the Second Continental Congress. One of those delegates was Benjamin Franklin, who served on the committee that drafted the Declaration of Independence, and is also considered a founding father of these United States. Franklin outlined the founding fathers intentions by saying, “justice will not be served until those who are unaffected are as outraged as those who are.” This is a very powerful quote because even if people are not victims of an unjust situation and they are just as infuriated as those who are targeted then it is easier for amends to be made. Although being a well respected individual, Franklin was in a sense contradictory; while he was the president of the Pennsylvania Society for Promoting the Abolition of Slavery he did own two slaves himself. His newspaper, the Pennsylvania Gazette, often contained advertisements relating to the sale or purchase of slaves. The man himself, Benjamin Franklin, advocated for justice yet had faults of his own. His understanding of justice is radically different from what is accepted of the term now, which shows how “justice for all” is a flexible term.

Bringing about justice is challenging when there is nearly a whole country opposing you. This is an experience every president has dealt with in the past, especially, Abraham Lincoln. Lincoln is known for his most controversial document the emancipation proclamation which he had several doubts about since the reactions of hostility and jubilation coming from different parts of the nation in the beginning of his journey against slavery. The emancipation proclamation made it so that slaves who have not yet escaped to the North were free but slaves who were along the Border States were still not affected. Lincoln was brave to go against the majority of the Americans opinion to abolish slavery in the states and on the day that he finally approved the latest version he said “I never, in my life, felt more certain that I was doing right, than I do in signing this paper.” But it is still controversial because although he was an advocate for the freedom of slaves he never specified whether they were now to be held up to the same standards as white people.  Lincoln did make an effort to end slavery and even died for it but he had the satisfaction of having the thirteenth amendment passed months before his death.

Martin Luther King Jr. is one of the many influential voices who have inspired me. King believed that there was no justice in the United States because of the segregation between black people and white people. In his “I Have a Dream” speech he states “When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir. This note was a promise that all men, yes, black men as well as white men, would be guaranteed the “unalienable Rights” of “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” Even in the 21st century there is still discrimination against black people and Hispanic people even though they are also heirs of this nation. I also agree with his statement further along in his speech where he claims “No, no, we are not satisfied, and we will not be satisfied until “justice rolls down like waters, and righteousness like a mighty stream.”” The pledge of allegiance cannot ring true until America as a country decides to stop police brutality, end wars with foreign countries, and mend unresolved problems.

The United States has undergone major transformation from the impact that Benjamin Franklin, Abraham Lincoln, and Martin Luther King Jr. have had. These changes have allowed me to analyze and learn from history and evaluate the progress that this nation has made as a whole. Along with the differences from each time period there are still various similarities that have endured over time. This latest generation has come to be more accepting towards traditionally taboo topics that were shunned by traditionalists. For example laws concerning same-sex marriage in the country and how it has advanced to become legal in thirty seven states. America has become a place where the fight for justice is undergoing a continuous battle. Living in the twenty first century I feel that there is still no justice at all even though there is no lack of government configuration such as in Franklin’s time, no slavery going on such as in Lincoln’s time, there is no obvious segregation such as in Kings time but, I still feel that there is a dismissal of justice. The ideals and morals found in the lines of the pledge of allegiance do not live up to their promises. There is one similarity that is consistent all throughout history but is hopefully dismissed in the future and it is that the people do not practice what they preach such as Franklin, Lincoln, and King.  The only way to make sure the validity of the phrase “justice for all” lasts is if we learn from the past and work together as a nation to build a newer and stronger foundation than the one setup for us. We make sure that the work that these men put in does not go to waste and in the wise words of Martin Luther King Jr, “We cannot walk alone. And as we walk, we must make the pledge that we shall always march ahead. We cannot turn back.”


We would like to wish Melanie Arias the best of luck moving on to Hunter College. Congratulations!

My name is Melanie Arias and I am an 18–year–old, college–bound, High School Senior currently attending the Academy of American Studies in Long Island City. In the fall I will be attending Hunter College, an American public university located in Manhattan’s Upper East Side. I’m interested in pursuing a career in political science and international relations. During my time at the Academy of American Studies I have participated in Student Government since my freshmen year and am the current President, I am a participant in Improvisational Theatre Club for three years, I have also been a part of the bowling team, and currently am the Vice President for a volunteer chapter named Glamour Gals run through my school. Outside of school I have been a participant in Leaders Club, Youth and Government, City Wide Teen Advisory, and Teens Take the City programs run through the YMCA of Greater New York. I have been part of the YMCA since the seventh grade starting off in Junior Leaders Club and working my way up. I have been president of my Leaders Club, Brooklyn Borough President for Teens Take the City, and have even won the Volunteer of the Year award for my YMCA and was invited to a reception at the Grand Hyatt Midtown Manhattan Hotel. I enjoy singing, painting, reading, doing community service, debating, and modeling. My love for helping others has led me to participate in soup kitchens, charity walks, park cleanups, and constructing cyberbullying awareness presentations. Behind all these great projects were great teams that had their best interest in improving the community. All my experiences were difficult, challenging, and in the end incredibly fulfilling.

I have gone to school and lived in Queens since I was born. I live in Maspeth with my mother, father, and younger brother. My older brother is a SUNY Purchase graduate and is a current Peace Corps Volunteer in the Dominican Republic. It is a privilege to have been selected for this scholarship and I am extremely grateful for the generosity of the Santora family.

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