06/11/2012 08:33 am ET Updated Jul 11, 2012

The Elusive American Experience

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.

Not too long ago, in a country not too far away, a group of people left their homes and headed to the New World. The reason for their exodus, you ask? Many may say, "Because Bob Marley released his song, 'Exodus.'" In reality, however, it was to achieve the American experience -- to obtain the elusive personal freedom. Many people throughout American history have sought out this goal.

According to Freedom: A History of US, between 1630 and 1640, 20,000 Puritans fled England, led by John Winthrop, a Puritan stockholder in the Massachusetts Bay Company. They left their homeland in order to separate themselves from the Church of England, also known as the Anglican Church, so that they could escape religious persecution and be able to practice their own religion peacefully and freely -- a just reason, in my opinion. The Puritans disliked the customs of their national religion, and as a result, they fled from their intolerant rulers in pursuit of personal freedom. About a century and a half later, in 1776, many descendents of the Puritans and other early settlers signed the Declaration of Independence, declaring that they were, from then on, independent from Great Britain. With the stroke of a feathered quill, each signer forever changed the course of all future events and declared their desire to release themselves from the shackles of colonialism and pursue their own personal freedom. They no longer wished to be governed by oppressing rulers, and instead they longed to govern themselves and take responsibility for their own actions. In other words, their action symbolized the pursuit of personal freedom.

Two other events in American history that also justify my position are the women's suffrage movement and the civil rights movement. During the women's suffrage movement, women fought for voting rights equal to those of men, which was very controversial at the time. Women spent 72 years fighting for their voting rights! Despite hardships and great opposition towards them, supporters pushed on, and in 1920, the 19th Amendment was passed. The amendment gave women the official right to vote, a personal freedom which many people, regardless of race or sex, enjoy today. Not long later, the civil rights movement began. During this violent time, African-Americans fought to end segregation and gain rights equivalent to those of the whites. They relentlessly fought using both violent and non-violent methods to gain the rights that they deserved. They put forth their best efforts and persevered despite outrageously violent opposition towards them. In 1968, their valiant efforts paid off, because in that year, the Civil Rights Act of 1968 was passed. The American Vision says that the act "contained a fair-housing provision outlawing discrimination in housing sales and rentals and gave the Justice Department authority to bring suits against such discrimination." The passing of the amendment liberated the African-Americans and gave them rights that every human deserves. Before, African-Americans had suffered due to discrimination, despite their liberation from slavery. In both of these important movements, the actions of the supporters portrayed the American experience, a pursuit of personal freedom.

For those of you who are still undecided, please consider the courageous Native Americans. They were the original Americans and fought to keep this land theirs. They were here centuries before the Europeans and I believe that we unjustly snatched their beloved land and destroyed their lives. Their attackers were, ironically, Americans descended from the signers of the Declaration of Independence and their constituents! Although the Native Americans lost in their battle to keep their freedom and rights, their motives still symbolize the American experience. They fought in order to recapture the elusive personal freedom, which seemed to slip away from them ever since the beginning of the colonization of the Americas. It was the idea of personal freedom that kept them going and gave them courage and strength.

The American experience is the pursuit of personal freedom -- a free and just life without oppression or prejudice. Personal freedom is what we, as Americans, have been fighting for ever since our rough beginnings. It is the centerpiece of all American desires and the pursuit of it has shaped America as we know it today. Without personal freedom, the United States would not be the United States, because the United States is personal freedom. I think personal freedom is the fuel of America.