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Thomas McCarthy:
2007 Winner
FDNY Ladder 127

Thomas McCarthy

Winning Essay

As I have progressed through high school, I have tried to focus in on what I would like to do with my life. I once raised one of the possibilities to my mother, and told her that I might want to go into politics. “Wouldn’t it be cool,” I said, “if I became President of the United States?” My mother shocked me by saying that she would never want me to be President. I asked why, and she told me that it was too much pressure, and that she would not want to see me have that kind of responsibility, because it takes a lot out of a person. Come to think of it, she was right (as usual). The entire United States government, especially the President, has the power to change the world with one decision. Looking back on the history of this great nation, examining only a few of the decisions that our leaders have made will show what kind of influence the United State Government has.

One of the most important decisions that impacted the history of the United States, as well as the world, was in fact the very first decision that the government made. When the Continental Congress signed the Declaration of Independence on the Fourth of July, in 1776, a nation was born. The colonies cast off their ties to the United Kingdom, and formed a country that would eventually become the strongest in the world. The people of the United States were now represented in the government by people who looked after their best interests, and had a new national identity. In retrospect, the American Revolution was one of the most influential decisions in history, because it set a precedent of people rebelling for the right to choose their own leadership; and for the right to happiness. Without this first decision by leaders such as Thomas Jefferson and George Washington, the world never would have been the same.

In 1945, President Harry S. Truman made one of the most controversial wartime decisions ever when he authorized the dropping of two atomic weapons on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, two Japanese cities. The immediate effect of this decision was the surrender of Japan and the end of World War II, which possibly saved tens of thousands of American lives. The effects were not short-lived, however. To this day, nuclear warfare has been a topic of debate and discussion both in America and in international organizations, such as the United Nations. Although there are many sound arguments as to why we should not have dropped the bomb, because many civilians died and we were never completely sure of the long term effects that radiation would have, the positives outweigh the negative effects. The war ended with no further American casualties, and it also alerted the world to the dangers of nuclear weaponry. Without international knowledge of the massive destruction that these weapons ‘could cause, the United States might have gone to war with the Soviet Union, which would have devastated both nations, and left the two world superpowers in ruins. Although much death and destruction came from the “Little Boy” and the “Fat Man” atomic bombs, the world has become more educated about the dangers of nuclear weaponry, and we are better off because of it.

Another decision that forever altered the face of American culture was the Supreme Court decision in Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka that outlawed segregation in public facilities. Even though it came decades after the Emancipation Proclamation that abolished slavery in states trying to secede from the Union, the nation had still been divided between the white population and minorities. This Supreme Court decision, which overruled another Supreme Court decision in Plessy v. Ferguson, finally broke the main barrier between the two races, and allowed black students to be educated in formerly white schools, and outlawed separate bathrooms, water fountains, and other things that only served to increase the gap between white and black. Although there was a rough period where some Southern businesses and schools tried to resist, it was a vital step in the civil rights movement, and helped shape the future culture of the nation. It would take many more years before all discrimination was made illegal, and some argue that there is plenty of racism in the world of today, but without this decision, the United States might still not have the vibrant culture that incorporates characteristics from every race.

All three of these decisions have one characteristic in common, and it is something that could serve as guidance for elected officials in our government today: None of these had the absolute support of the American people. Almost half of the population in colonial America was loyal to the United Kingdom when the Declaration of Independence was signed, most of the South opposed any form of integration or desegregation, and it is highly likely that many Americans would have voiced their disagreement with dropping the atomic bombs if they were given a choice in the matter. The leaders who made these decisions did it because they felt it was best for the nation. Of course a leader should never make a decision if almost all American citizens were against it, but acting in the best interests of the people does not always mean that this decision will be fully supported. Leaders must follow their heart and their instincts, because they were the people that were elected to represent the United States, and they were elected for a reason.

Somewhat of a contradicting principle that all elected officials should abide by is sticking to the platform they were elected under. Many officials, such as former President George H. W. Bush, have made the mistake of promising something such as never raising taxes, and then going back on their word. When someone is elected, they are elected because his or her constituents agreed with and supported the principles that he or she presented when trying to get elected. To go back on something that was promised, or to lie about your ideals to try and gain support, is cheating the American people, because the official is not representing the views of the people that elected him or her. Being a great politician and decision maker is finding a balance between these two things. A representative in the government may go against his platform if they truly feel that something is right, but they better have a good reason.

Being part of the United States government, especially holding the office of the President of the United States, is an extremely demanding job. The pressure to stay true to the people that elected you and to make the right decisions is astronomical, because the US Government has the power to change the world. Some of the most important historical decisions made by the leaders of our nation were very controversial in their own time, and the great decisions are never the easiest to make. Hopefully, the present and future politicians and representatives will follow in the footsteps of some of those that came before them, and continue to shape the United States into the great nation it is today.


We would like to wish Thomas McCarthy the best of luck moving on to Harvard University. Congratulations!

I am senior at Bay Shore High School in Bay Shore, New York. Throughout my years at Bay Shore, I have been involved in a lot of activities, some for my entire high school career.

I have been a part of the wonderful drama program in Bay Shore since seventh grade, and I have been in over 15 shows since then. This year, I served as President of the Thespian Club, and also starred in two shows, Clue, and Singing in the Rain. I have also been a member of the Model United Nations Club for four years, and served as President of the club in my senior year. The last two years, I have been a part of the national team that won awards at the National Model UN Conference in New York City, the largest competition in the country. I have also been a member of the National Honor Society at my high school, and served as President of this club as well in my senior year. Also in my senior year I joined the Mock Trial Club, and our team is competing for the State Championships for the first time in over a decade.

Aside from all of the activities I am involved in within Bay Shore High School, I also like to spend lots of time with my friends and family. I am an avid sports fan, and I love to watch games, whether it is a professional sports team or one of the sports teams at Bay Shore. A goal of mine this summer is to go to at least five Yankee games with my friends or my family. When I’m not watching sports, I am most likely playing one with my friends or brother. I also love to read, especially books by Tom Clancy, John Grisham, or J.R.R. Tolkein.

Next year, I will be attending Harvard University, and I will most likely be majoring in Political Science or History as an undergraduate. When my time as an undergrad is over, I might pursue a career as a lawyer and apply to law school, but I am not quite sure yet.

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