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.
Even in the early years of life, our personality, goals and aspirations are predetermined by what society expects of us. Girls are expected to like the color pink, play with baby dolls and wear pretty dresses. As infants, most of our lives are laid out for us: school, college, marriage, sturdy job, retirement. Expectations consume the American experience in its entirety, producing predictable lifestyles that define American culture.
However, these expectations are not specific norms that inhibit us from free will, but form a certain logical order that create a path that we are meant to follow. Because the ceremony of matrimony is thought to be the key to an acceptable life, most children plan on getting married. And because college is presumed to be the only way to get a good job, going to college is discussed as if it is already a predetermined event in a child's life. According to the United States Bureau of Labor, 68.1 percent of 2010 American high school graduates attended college in the fall. With such a significant number of Americans attending colleges, we often think of people who do not attend college as unintelligent or failures. As citizens of a country known internationally for its freedom, you would think we would have more variety in the general pathways of our lives.
Even at the dinner table, complex guidelines engrained in society are expected to be followed. Why placing our elbows on the dinner table is considered rude is still unknown; however, it determines if we are high-class, elegant or even ungrateful.
As students, we are required to attend school every single day and complete countless hours of homework, as well as take as many honors and AP classes as we possibly can. As young adults who are about to enter college, we are expected to take part in community service and extracurricular activities. Our lives are dictated by what other people perceive as the correct path. The Denver Post reported that last year, 1.8 million students participated in AP exams, a significant increase from past years. As more and more students feel the need to take these advanced classes, it is becoming more of an expectation that a student take at least one AP or IB class.
The American experience is shaped by the little rules slowly accumulated throughout our history, which dictate the proper and most successful way to do simple, large and life-changing tasks. Even our legislature reflects societal expectations. For instance, while George Washington set many precedents for presidents to follow, one of his most prominent was the two-term presidency. When Grant had thought about running for a third term, he was quickly reminded of the two-term expectation and decided not to run. The 22nd Amendment of the Constitution was passed in 1947 to prevent a president from presiding for more than 10 years. If the norm was for presidents to run for three terms, the 22nd Amendment would reflect this expectation.
The relentless desires to achieve the American dream and be accepted into society have created expectations that shape the way we as Americans go about our everyday lives. Expectations have formed American culture as we know it today and have even played an important role in shaping important pieces of legislature and political practices. Why do we feel the need to continue abide by these expectations? Well, only psychology can answer that question. But expectations are what unite our country into a communal society and give us our identity as Americans.