Who gets to define what “America” means? Politicians get a lot of air time. We wanted to hear what “the people” think. So in Fall 2021, we launched a contest asking UConn students to tell us what “America” means to them. We received a diverse array of responses in the form of short essays, creative writing, poetry, photography, and other forms of original artwork, from students across UConn’s schools and campuses. Of these, eight winners rose to the top based on their originality, creativity, and quality.
View the video below to hear Honorable Mention winner Emma Kathryn Parente read her poem “A Student in America,” and discuss her inspiration for this work.
A Student in America
by Emma Kathryn Parente
CLAS, Sociology and Psychology
Class of 2022
Shutting off my alarm 6 times before going to class
Quickly getting dressed
Biking to class, out of breath, sitting in my lecture
Should I be taking notes?
Is everyone else writing this down?
My face covered by a mask
Laptop screens reflecting off our eyes
I’m tired from a night of studying
“Work with the person next to you”
“You need to know this for the exam”
Why am I here?
The opportunity to go to class
The chance to dress how I want
To express myself
The gift of accessible transportation
The ability to take notes and learn
The responsibility to keep myself and other students safe
The luxury of having resources and technology
The freedom to expend my energy on gaining knowledge
The exchanging of ideas and opinions with the people around me
The excitement of learning something new
The achievement of passing an exam
I get to be here
I get to live with these gifts
We often take for granted what America means to us. We especially forget what it can give to us. We get so used to painting our freedoms to be burdens. It’s easy to get stuck in a negative mindset, always thinking of what we have to do instead of what we get to do. Students work hard, because they can. America is the opportunity to embrace who we are and reach our full potential. This can never be a burden, even if we sometimes forget that.