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Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 – Advanced)
Topic: The USA (01/08/09)

TITLE: Land of Opportunity
By Connie Dixon


It was my first day as a fourth-grader. Mrs. Barrett welcomed each of us as we entered through the over-sized, 8-foot doorway of the ancient, 3-story brick building. The old school had witnessed thousand s of students enter through its portals, and the middle aged, red-headed Mrs. Barrett had greeted hundreds of them personally.

Kindness radiated through her initial greeting as she acknowledged each of us with a warm hand shake and a soft touch on the shoulder. “Good morning, I’m Mrs. Barrett. Please find your desk and put on your name tag.”

At the clang of the school bell, Mrs. Barrett moved to the front of the class and the room became still. Her quick smile exposed an inner beauty and a sweet disposition that rapidly became evident to all of us. She prompted us to stand and face the prominently placed flag. Then she purposely glanced in my direction and asked, “Susan, will you please lead us in the flag salute?”

Oh my gosh. I was terrified. I had always been timid and shy and on this very first day – I was filled with horror at her simple request. I felt 30 sets of eyes staring at my back and I started to panic. I wanted to cry, I was so scared, but Mrs. Barrett waited patiently…….and smiled with those persuasive eyes that made me want to please her……….and so I did, from that day on.

A week or so later, we were asked to write an essay entitled: What I Want to Do When I Grow Up. We were reminded that we live in the greatest country on earth, that nothing was out of reach for us no matter our background, our gender, our race, our financial status……..we could do anything we put our minds to. Because we lived in the U.S.A., there was no stopping us from attaining even the highest goals. Anything was possible and she encouraged us to dream BIG!

That assignment changed each of us forever. We now had an advocate that believed in us. No longer were we little kids without purpose in life; that day we became children with a dream. Mrs. Barrett transformed our attitudes, our desires, our confidence, our courage and the way that we acted towards one another. From that assignment I gained the determination to become a teacher. I knew without a doubt that I could accomplish my dream, even though the odds were stacked against me. My family didn’t have a lot of money and none of my relatives had ever gone to college, but that didn’t matter. Mrs. Barrett opened my door to the American dream and it was at this time in my young journey that I knew for a fact that this would be the career of my future.

Over the years, I occasionally called on my favorite teacher. After entering college, I came back to visit during breaks, and she continued to persuade me to follow my dream. The last time I spoke to her was in 1983. She was so proud of the fact that I had been teaching English for over 5 years. Her feeble voice was drowned out by the rhythmic machines that breathed life into her. Sleep overcame her tired body and tears spilled from my eyes as I witnessed the timeless beauty drain from this amazing woman. She gave strength and courage to so many and it was overwhelming to helplessly stand by as that hope escaped its solemn refuge.

During her memorial service, past students filed in, row after row – to offer a final farewell to their beloved teacher. Mrs. Barrett’s career reigned for more than 30 years and she influenced so many……there were hundreds in attendance, the bleachers and chairs were filled to capacity.

A prior student, NASA Astronaut, Lieutenant Colonel James Riley, approached the microphone and a hush fell over the place. He placed his right hand over his heart and quoted the well-known words……I pledge allegiance, to the flag, of the United States of America…… A thunderous roar exploded as the unison chorus joined with him to give honor to a country where opportunity is offered to all…more and less…by the land of the free, the home of the brave. Mrs. Barrett opened the eyes of each of her students to this opportunity…..and then she instilled in them the aspiration to succeed.

Thank you Mrs. Barrett……and thank you U.S.A. I am proud to be an American.

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This article has been read 734 times
Member Comments
Member Date
Joy Bach 01/15/09
What an awesome story! It so totally captures exactly what it means to live in the USA. Excellent.
Anita Paulsen01/15/09
For being such a difficult topic, you certainly seemed to find your wings and spirited us with you on an unexpected flight to "Memory Island". That place where each one of us has a a teacher or a special someone that inspired us with the potential of our futures and fueled us with hope to make our dreams a reality. Thanks for the MEMORY!
Jan Ackerson 01/15/09
I love stories about inspirational teachers! This is very well-written, and I enjoyed every word.
Myrna Noyes01/15/09
I used to teach grade school, and I also homeschooled for several years and then tutored for a few more. I have a soft spot for teachers! :)

Your story was very inspiring and All-American in tone. I especially liked the sentence: "No longer were we little kids without purpose in life; that day we became children with a dream."
Teresa Lee Rainey01/20/09
I do believe this is my favorite article so far. Just beautiful in so many ways. Love the characters. Love the overall story, the American dream. . . :)
Leah Nichols 01/22/09
A winner for sure!

This was beautifully written; I cried. :)

No red ink could I find....you definitely nailed this one!
Verna Cole Mitchell 01/22/09
Your story is awesome.
Joy Bach 01/22/09
Congratulations on your "highly commended"! You have great skills.
Sheri Gordon01/22/09
Congratulations on your Highly Commended. This is well written, and very inspirational. Nice job with the topic.
Holly Westefeld01/22/09
Connie, congratulations on your HC on this delightful, uplifting story.
Diana Dart 01/22/09
Very, very good Connie. The whole paragraph that ends "...as that hope escaped its solemn refuge" made me hold me breath. Beautiful message and so very tenderly written.
Bella Rossiter01/22/09
What a perfect story to represent the USA. I enjoyed the fact that success was attained to and success was achieved and you were able to bless your teacher as she had blessed you. Beautifully told. Thank you!
Myrna Noyes01/22/09
CONGRATULATIONS on your "Highly Commended" for this wonderful story! :)