This editorial answers the question, "What is the American Experience?" It is part of a series from the junior AP Language and Composition classes at Oakton High School in Northern Virginia, and was selected by a panel of student judges for publication on HuffPost Teen.
It's a risk. It's a challenging journey. It's something out of the ordinary. It's adventure. The spirit of adventure is a value that has never escaped our hearts as Americans. Even through change in America's size, industry and power, adventure is still something we crave. The American experience relies on a sense of adventure in order to reach for the impossible, and to discover the opportunities to be had for our country and ourselves.
In 1809, President Thomas Jefferson sent Meriwether Lewis and William Clark on a journey that transformed America through the exploration of the unchartered land of the West. As Lewis said, "As we passed on, it seemed as if scenes of visionary enchantment would never have an end." It was this thrill of learning and experiencing new things continued their expedition, and it was what made the trip such a success when the two found a desired passage that allowed America to fulfill its dream of manifest destiny. Lewis and Clark were met with many obstacles on their expedition, such as crossing the foreboding Rocky Mountains and the uninhibited violence faced with the Blackfeet Indians, but the idea of adventure overpowered any barrier that came their way.
These men opened new doors of opportunity for America. Just think: Where would we be today without their adventure? We learn through adventure and discovery. Lewis and Clark defined the newly discovered America, culturally and geographically. They sparked the minds of Americans sitting at home, and allowed them to realize the new opportunities to be had past the horizon.
The American sense of adventure was recognized once again in Mark Twain's novel, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer through the lives of the young boys Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn. The adventures Tom and Huck experienced made Americans realize the importance of adventure, and what relief can come from adventure. Tom used his spirit of adventure to escape from the harsh realities in life. After being rejected by the girl he loved and punished by his Aunt, Tom ran away with the dream of becoming a pirate and someone like Robin Hood. His use of imagination on his adventures made Americans aware of how an adventure can symbolize movement towards new possibilities in life, and in the world.
Twain's novel also identified the significance adventure has in friendships. Through Tom and Huck's adventures of running away to islands and exploring dangerous caves with treasure, they established their brotherly bond and the ideal friendship that many Americans today refer to centuries later. If it were not for Twain's novel and Tom Sawyer's vast journeys, the importance of adventure in one's life would not be as clearly seen, and if chances for adventure went unnoticed the ability for people to grow and expand would be restrained.
Like Tom Sawyer, my childhood was filled with grand adventures I took with my two best friends, Zac and Kelsey, when I lived in Colorado. Our parents called us the "Three Musketeers" because of the many adventures we imagined in our backyards. Similar to the expedition of Lewis and Clark, we ventured into what we considered to be the "unknown," the renowned Red Rocks.
It was a beautiful summer evening in Colorado -- the air was still warm and there was a small breeze to make the weather pleasurable. This is what we considered the perfect weather for an adventure. We took off and climbed down to the infamous red rocks near Red Rocks amphitheater. Standing at the base of the towering rocks, we felt so tiny. We were all so mesmerized by where we were standing; it was so quiet and peaceful. We explored the caves, and climbed the rocks looking at their different shapes and hues of red.
This was my first real adventure; I traveled to a place where I did not know what I would find or what creatures I would see. This adventure led to me discovering who I am as a person. I had always considered myself a very shy and cautious person, but following this adventure I felt something I never felt before -- I was courageous and, well, adventurous. If it were not for my excursion, I would not have discovered a large part of who I am.
If it was not for the spirit of adventure, Americans would not as easily discover who they are; and if these adventurous individuals had not ventured out into the unknown, America would not be defined the way she is today. Our mountains would not have been climbed; our rivers would not have been crossed and people would be missing a part of themselves if it was not for adventure.