Tina Gao – Flag House Scholar 2014

Congratulations to our winner, Tina Gao!

A bit about our winner:

Tina was a high school senior from Marriots Ridge High School in Marriotsville, Maryland. She is a member of the National Honor Society, and has served her community by working with Voices For Change and as an instructor in math and reading for Kumon North America. She was recently one of two high school seniors to be named a US Presidential Scholar for Maryland and will be attending the University of Pennsylvania in the fall of 2014.

2014 Question:

On September 11th, 2013, the New York Times published an op-ed piece authored by Russian President Vladimir V. Putin entitled “A Plea for Caution From Russia”. In it, President Putin takes issue with President Obama’s comments from an earlier speech, stating: “I would rather disagree with a case he [President Obama] made on American exceptionalism, stating that the United States’ policy is ‘what makes America different. It’s what makes us exceptional.’” If you were to write a letter respectfully responding to President Putin on this issue, what would you say to demonstrate to him that America is indeed unique from other countries? How is American exceptionalism most apparent in our country today?

Tina’s Essay:

Dear President Putin,
I respectfully disagree with your statement on American exceptionalism. Although my country is not the only nation that can boast of democracy, egalitarianism, revolutionary history, or diplomacy, we hold a unique perspective on diversity. Our policies reflect this when minority rights are protected at home and abroad and our history affirms this when racial tensions were resolved, sometimes through violence and sometimes through negotiation, but always with the support of Americans who try to continuously expand their horizons. This is a guiding principle in our foreign relations, from Syria to Ukraine; only through our differences can people learn to become more cosmopolitan, culturally and intellectually. Diversity, instead of forced assimilation, is embraced.
As a first generation immigrant, I’ve felt the impact of American policies in welcoming newcomers very acutely. I’ve also had the opportunity to compare the pressure to conform in the United States with that of other nations—my conclusion is that our heterogeneous population is encouraged to formulate unique ideas that add to debate, discussion, and ultimately, democracy. Here, I have no fear of vocalizing a dissenting opinion, because I know that I will be taken seriously and respected. This is more than I can say for many countries in the world, including Russia. America’s exceptionalism is thriving today, as exemplified by growing immigrant populations and strong minority voices. Championing dissimilarity instead of fearing its effects on native culture makes the United States unique, and swells my pride in being an American.
A Concerned Citizen