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 People often complain that our generation is politically apathetic. Just 25 years ago, it was common for students to join in strikes and antiwar protests, but nowadays, the stereotype goes, young people are more likely to be found watching MTV or shopping at the mall. I certainly was no different. Appallingly ignorant of current events, I never read a paper or watched the news, but I knew all about the personal lives of popular TV and movie stars. Then something happened to change my outlook forever.

 In my social studies class, we had an assignment to interview an older person about the changes he or she had witnessed in his or her lifetime. I decided to interview my neighbor, Mrs. Fletcher. Since she had never spoken to me much before, I figured she would have little to say and I could complete the assignment quickly.

 To my surprise, Mrs. Fletcher started telling me about a world I had never known: life in our town before the civil rights movement. I was astonished to learn that in the 1950s, African Americans went to separate schools, rode at the backs of buses, and were prevented from living in white neighborhoods. As Mrs. Fletcher talked about how she and other African Americans helped break the color barrier by insisting on being served at white-only lunch counters, I became filled with shame at my own ignorance. How could I have been so unaware?

 From that moment on, politics and history became my passions. I began to talk to my parents, my teachers, and other adults about their memories of earlier times. I started reading the newspaper, especially the editorial page, trying to learn about the burning issues of our own time. I even volunteered to stuff envelopes for a local candidate who I thought might make our own community a better place.

 In school we had been taught that there was no society freer than the United States, but that was only part of the story. By reading about the political struggles of minorities, women, blue-collar workers and others, I learned that freedom is not something you are given. It is something you have to fight for. And once you win it, you have to make sure no one tries to take it away again. That is why I will never forget the day I interviewed Mrs. Fletcher. It is the day I became politically aware.

(from Skills Building Workbook – KAPLAN International)


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