My father served in the Army and the Air Force. He was around for the majority of my childhood, yet the months he was gone showed me the true sacrifice that comes with choosing to serve in the United States military. Independence Day is the perfect time to reflect on our shared past, present and future.

There are people who will not acknowledge the Fourth of July this year. Perhaps they are protesting the treatment of migrants at the southern border. Maybe they cannot support the birthday of a country that imprisoned and abused their ancestors.

I am not attacking those who do not wish to celebrate America. In fact, I find it brave and more American than barbecue and fireworks. Those who protest are doing exactly what the founding fathers did 243 years ago.

However, the Fourth of July is not just America’s birthday. It is not simply a celebration of our existence. It is a day to reflect on the values we aspire to embody and the history we share.

For The Past

America’s past is full of horrific oppression and abuse. We are only now acknowledging the faults of our founding fathers, like Thomas Jefferson. The treatment of Native Americans by the government and its contemporary effects still goes untreated.

Yet, the past is not just Plessy v. Ferguson and “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” American history includes humble and fierce heroes. Figures like Martin Luther King Jr., George H.W. Bush and Harvey Milk. They, however, have nothing on the millions who lead unassuming lives, despite sacrificing more than we will ever know.

My father served in the Army and the Air Force. He was around for the majority of my childhood, yet the months he was gone showed me the true sacrifice that comes with choosing to serve in the United States military. 

While some may say Independence Day is not the correct day to honor my dad, who is now a veteran, I would disagree. While we should pay tribute to those who are or have served every day, Fourth of July celebrations must include an even greater show of thanks.

Without the sacrifice of the first Americans during the Revolutionary War, the Declaration of Independence would have been just another petition. King George III probably would have laughed and then punished the colony with more taxes.

Over 1.2 million Americans have given their lives for our nation. Countless others sacrificed not their lives, but their mental health. For me, Independence Day is about the freedoms our servicemen and women have died to defend, such as freedom of choice. The Declaration of Independence was written to give a British colony the ability to choose their future. 

For The Present

Some argue that we should not celebrate because not every American enjoys full freedom. This is obvious, seen in the treatment of African Americans by police and transgender people by the military.

However, if we held back celebrating until every single person was free, we would be waiting forever. Instead, we should use the holiday to reflect how where our country has been and where we want it to go.

The day is about the values set out in the Declaration of Independence that we still strive for: self-determination, equality, opportunity, and liberty. Belief in these principles are what make us Americans. 

The political rift caused by the 2016 Election has made certain debates too political and unnecessary. We should not wonder if detaining migrants in inhumane facilities is wrong. When examining the morals our country embodies, it is obvious that it is. 

Our present circumstances are not ideal. The power struggle between the extreme conservative and liberal camps has infected our country. The great challenge of our time will be reversing the damage this division has done. 

America holds no moral monopoly. No nation can justly proclaim themselves the greatest on Earth. But our country is resilient and strong because of these shared beliefs.

Instead of canceling the Fourth of July, we should contemplate how to better defend our beliefs in our own home. Despite the current atrocities taking place across the nation, I firmly believe that the majority of Americans will not allow it to continue. We are better than that.

For The Future

I celebrate Independence Day because I believe in the future of our nation. I am confident that our values and the high expectations we place on ourselves will outlive any challenge.

Americans are becoming more pessimistic about the nation’s future. Sixty-five percent believe the United States will be more politically divided by 2050. Confidence in the ability of our elected officials is declining. America’s current climate is one of fear and distrust.

We have faced challenges before. One of the greatest is what we celebrate on the Fourth of July: becoming the first British colony to achieve independence. 

We have dealt with immense geopolitical threats and covert attacks before. Trump is not the first president to be suspected of illegal activity in the office. This is hardly the first time an issue has so starkly divided our nation.

The United States of America is synonymous with the power of hope. There was no way to know we would defeat Great Britain in 1776. 50 years ago, we had no idea if a man could walk on the moon. And yet we hoped.

No matter what difficulties we are facing, we must celebrate that idea of hope. It drives us toward a more equal tomorrow for every person, regardless of their nationality or citizenship. 

The president turning Independence Day into a narcissist show of dominance and military power is sad. But do not let it discourage you from honoring the sacrifice of our men and women in the military. 

Our union is not perfect and it never will be. That does not mean our ideals are not worth remembering and celebrating. For me, that is what Independence Day is about: honor, reflection and respect.

Kayla Glaraton

Kayla Glaraton is a Generation Z Voice at The Pavlovic Today. Her interests include human rights, American politics and policy, the environment and international affairs. Kayla is studying journalism and...