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Yanqiao Chen:
2011 Winner
Long Island City High School

Yanqiao Chen

Winning Essay

The history of the United States is the history of constant change and constant struggle in order to achieve the “greatest happiness for the greatest number.” We began as a small nation but became one of the world’s leading superpowers. From early colonial American settlements to the Declaration of Independence and the birth of our Constitution; from slavery to the ratification of the 13th, 14th and 15th amendments and later the Civil Right Movements; from voting requirements to universal suffrage and the ratification of the 19th, and 26th amendments. Our country has experienced so many changes, has overcome so many adversities, has survived so many dark points in its history and yet, our people are still able to come together to face continued challenges and carry out the changes necessary for the growth of our society. The ability to face these challenges many times has been accomplished under the leadership of our presidents and spirit of cooperation between our elected officials and the people.

Prior to the presidential election of 2008, public opinion showed that Americans were generally unhappy with the government in terms of the rising national deficit, the unnecessary foreign involvements, high unemployment rates due to the epic global economic recession and other domestic policies during President Bush’s administration. In the 2008 election campaign, Barack Obama promised “change” in America and now, two years after his inauguration as the 44th President of the United States, the question is “What changes have occurred?”

While some individuals are doubting and questioning Obama’s ability to fulfill his promises, they fail to realize that the election of 2008 itself was a dramatic change in the history of the United States. For the first time in the entire history of the United States, we finally elected our first African-American President. This not only marked the beginning of a new Era, but it also marked a giant step towards the principles of this nation. I remember on the day of President Obama’s inauguration, everybody was waiting for this exciting and historic moment. Students were invited to the auditorium to watch the inauguration address in our school. Those who didn’t get the chance to watch it in the auditorium were watching it along with their teachers in their class. As estimated, about 1.8 million people were present at Obama’s presidential inauguration in 2009 breaking the record in number of any national event in Washington D.C. His inauguration inspired hope, optimism, faith, and change in the people because they have all witnessed the infinite possibilities and the changes that begin with that very election and that very historic moment.

Perhaps one of the most undeniable and significant changes that occurred in our country since Obama’s inauguration is his healthcare reform. Obama purposed to spend $900 billion over the next 10 years to establish a government insurance plan known as the public option designed to lower the costs and enhance the quality of healthcare so more Americans can afford healthcare coverage. Previously, millions of Americans were denied or dropped from healthcare coverage due to various reasons thus initiating a sense of insecurity and uncertainty in patients who have severe medical conditions. But in March 2010, Obama signed The Affordable Care Act which prohibited private insurance companies from denying healthcare coverage for pre-existing conditions, and provided consumers with more options and a wider range of services such as mammograms, colonoscopies, and new baby care. Although this was a tremendous accomplishment, after all, how can we enjoy our freedom to the “pursuit of happiness” when we are denied from access to healthcare?

One of the most controversial issues during the election of 2008 was our extensive foreign involvements in many of the Middle-eastern countries, particularly in Iraq. During Obama’s campaign, he promised to end the war in Iraq and bring back our troops. During his first few days in office, Obama issued executive orders and Presidential memoranda to withdraw troops and ultimately end the war in Iraq. In the following month, he declared that our mission in Iraq would end within 18 months. Slowly, our troops were brought back and on August 31, 2010, Obama officially declared that the U.S combat mission in Iraq was over. I remember just a couple of years ago that I always heard news about the violence, the bombing, suicides, and the increasing deaths of our soldiers in Iraq almost every day. But, after Obama’s inauguration, these news reports have significantly decreased and at the same time, more news was reported about how our soldiers were happy to be back with their families. You know, when an American turns on his/her TV and all he/she sees are the news reports about our continued involvement in Iraq that would incite nothing but anger, sorrow and violence among the public. It unintentionally creates a negative psychological impact on the minds of the people towards “hopelessness” and “helplessness”. But on the other hand, if an American turns on his/her TV and watches that our soldiers are returning home with honor; that our families are reuniting with tears of joy, and that our nation is promoting peace and stability around the world, it instills a sense of hope, confidence and patriotism not only to every American, but also to their children. Obama accomplished that change through his decisive leadership.

The huge national deficit that our nation inherited and the current global economic recession have not only contributed to the rise of unemployment rates but also created fear among Americans that many were discouraged from spending. Within weeks of his inauguration, Obama signed the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009(ARRA) aimed to “Rescue, Recover and Reinvest” in our economy from the deepening worldwide depression. According to the 2010 Vice President’s annual report to the President, over 2 million jobs have been created or saved, “almost 20 million Americans have gotten extended unemployment benefits…and over 95% of working families have their taxes cut” through this $787 billion economic stimulus package. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics data, the unemployment rate had decreased to 9.4% by December 2010 from 10.1% in October of 2009. Now with the slow, but steady recovery of our economy, the rumors and fears are slowly fading away and disappearing because Americans see the spark of light breaking through the twilight that will shine for our future generations.

Spending, spending, and spending! Everyone knows the solution to our national deficit is to cut spending, but who wants their budgets to be cut? And the worst thing is areas such as education are one of the first to experience cut in the budget. Every year, my school stresses the importance of filling lunch applications to ensure our school gets money from the government. But still, every year, teachers are constantly being “let go”, interesting courses and after school programs are slowly being eliminated, and the level of education and student performance has dropped to the point where in NYC, some public schools (including our school) are in danger of shutting down, something nearly unheard of decades ago. Facing this crucial condition, Obama’s American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 has invested heavily in improving elementary and secondary education, teacher effectiveness (especially in low-performing schools) and higher education opportunities. As a senior in my high school, I saw that our school hired more teachers this year especially in subjects of math and science, and “master-teachers” to improve our school’s graduation and state mandated exam passing rates. In addition, student-teachers are working closely together with our teachers both in and outside class, something we had so little just a few years ago. Although the budget is still a problem in our school, that first sign of stressing the importance of education will benefit millions of children in years to come.

It is now the third year of Obama’s Presidency, and although our work is far from done, his promises are far from being fully fulfilled, although a lot more changes are still needed, and although we all know it will take us a significant amount of time to implement these changes, but when we see that our economy is slowly recovering, that our soldiers are withdrawing, that our relationships with Russia and Europe are “resetting,” and that our industries are re-awakening, we know we are “changing.” When our people are enjoying their rights to health care, our nation is promoting international peace; preventing teacher layoffs, creating more jobs, providing better education, establishing more transportation projects; striving for tax relief, outreaching for “a new beginning” with the Islamic World and working towards greater “changes,” we know we are uniting! President Obama was not only able to make these changes but more importantly, he was able to bring a sense of optimism, hope and youth that encouraged us to be enthusiastic about our future and not to be afraid of adversities because “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” After all, he was able to instill in the American public a positive attitude - the attitude that provides us and our future generations the courage to face hardships and ultimately strive for “change!”



When I was five year old in China, my parents divorced.

Living alone with my mom, I often looked up to those who had fancy toys. Once I went to my friend’s house and saw my friend playing with a fancy “machine” and I asked him, “What’s this?”

“Oh, you didn’t know? It’s a computer,” he answered.

All I remember was that I turned so red and shut up for the entire time afterwards. Of course when I went home I asked my mom to get me a computer (although I had no idea how to use it) and of course that did not happen.

I knew my mom was only making barely enough money to feed me, so at a very young age; I had to handle various responsibilities such as shopping, bargaining, cooking, laundry and other household chores since the age of six. With all this new responsibilities, I had to manage my time for school and household work. Every day, I had to finish all my homework in school, so that I could prepare dinner afterwards. Because my grades weren’t great, I was considered a bad student and my teachers completely gave up on me by “throwing” me to the back of the classroom. So the “good” students kept receiving high grades while the “bad” students constantly failed. It’s like how communist countries criticize that capitalist ideologies widen the gap between the rich and poor while their own education system is widening the gap between the “good” and “bad” students. Thus, students are forced to blindly compete among each other like robots trying to cram in all these “instructions” without understanding because that’s what appears on exams and not follow their passion in what they want to do in life.

Luckily, I was able to find my passion in math after I came to the U.S. With the decrease in my mom’s wage, she realized that she needed to do something to change our lives, so when I was ten, she came to the U.S and in 2005, I also immigrated to the U.S to join my mom and my stepdad. When I first came to the U.S, I was lost. My unfamiliarity with the language and the culture discouraged me. I dedicated myself night after night with the dictionary attempting to learn vocabulary for my U.S history class. After months of studying, I finally understood the chapter of the American Revolution.

In those days, the only language that spoke to me was math. My classmates often laughed at me when I spoke in broken English trying to answer the questions, but I tried answering every math question to the best of my ability. Gladly, my teacher – Mr. Reijen, recognized my passion. We spent hours discussing tricks and the “magic” behind it. “How did you do it?” I asked him open mouthed. “Because I’m a math-magician,” he answered. “I want to be a math-magician too,” I said enthusiastically. That day, I was determined to pursue excellence in math.

I started learning more math from different Chinese text books from my cousins. Through self-studying, I learned how to question. Instead of memorizing the formulas and theories, I tried to question where it was derived from. Interestingly, when sometimes I’m not thinking of anything, a “random” thought would travel into my mind and suddenly makes me realize everything (even in the middle of the night). The next day, I would tell everyone– I just wanted to share – share my happiness!

As a math tutor, I felt even more accomplished when other students understood my explanation. Once, I struggled to help an ESL student to understand the quadratic formula, and when she finally said “Oh! I got it,” I knew math had enlightened her. Now as a senior, I enjoy this happiness of sharing even more. Every day, as I’m helping my classmates in my AP Calculus class, I can feel they are experiencing the fascination of this magic too.

As I’m writing this, I feel fortunate that I’m able to do something that makes me happy, because our education system is designed for us to discover our passion and follow excellence in pursuing what we want to do in life. Success is always behind us, the faster we follow our passion, the faster it’ll catch up!

Today, although my family is still facing constant financial hardships, and although I’ m still overcoming this adversity, I’m ready!


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