06/05/2012 09:36 am ET Updated Aug 05, 2012


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.

Opportunity. It's something we all are proud of in our American society. The freedom and liberty to go wherever, do whatever and be whomever you desire through your own efforts. Yet, some people see opportunity as a bygone aspect of old American lore. In our modern society, many people see America restraining opportunity, due to a struggling economy as well as social prejudices against certain groups of people. Indeed, many Americans' perception of opportunity is limited to being lucky enough to hold a job in today's economy. While many people find that America, from past to present, is limited in opportunity, the American experience from our foundations to the present day is abound in opportunity.

Throughout history, Americans always had access to many opportunities. Though it is fictional, Horatio Alger's novel entitled Ragged Dick exemplifies this ideal. The main character, Dick Hunter, is a simple pauper boy in New York City who rises to become financially stable based on luck and his own skill (Alger). Through Alger's work, it is expressed that opportunity is abound in America if one looks in the right places. While Alger's work is a piece of fiction, its themes still stand true to the real American experience. One has to look no further than his or her own abilities in order to achieve prosperity. There are limitless opportunities available to anyone, especially in today's America, if people use their physical or mental abilities to get themselves a stable job or source of income. Through their own abilities, Americans have access to limitless opportunity.

Besides fictional characters, many Americans exemplify this Ragged Dick-like character of a self-made man, able to support him or herself from a blossoming industrialized nation. A real-life example of a hero from the tale by Horatio Alger is the industry baron and steel tycoon, Andrew Carnegie. Beginning as a simple bobbin boy immigrant from Scotland, he, much like Ragged Dick, was able to prosper immensely through his own abilities. Truly, he was a perfect depiction of a self-made man, clearly exemplifying the American Experience of opportunity by employing his own resourcefulness and skill to achieve prosperity. Later in life Carnegie wrote The Gospel of Wealth, in which he declares, "The laborer has now more comforts than the landlord a few generations ago. The farmer has more luxuries than the landlord has, and is more richly clad and better housed," and he was most certainly right. The common laborer, the farmer, the poor freedman, and the boss were all healthier than old European kings or lords. The commoner was given much more opportunity to be healthy and prosper due to an abundance of food and emerging public health works (BCF). The Americans, both rich and poor, were given the opportunity to live in an industrialized nation with ample financial opportunities to improve one's position in society. In addition, the nation had plenty of food and emerging public health works for sanitation and the overall physical well-being for Americans.

Even in the modern era, Americans are enthusiastic about the opportunity to improve upon themselves in new ways, such as through the Internet. Steve Jobs and Bill Gates, both college drop-outs yet naturally smart men, founded their own electronic empires and were vital in the founding of the modern digital era. The Internet has given all Americans vast numbers of opportunities to achieve prosperity via intellectual, social and economic methods. Americans in the modern era now have the opportunity to share their ideas, creations, information and products with a globally connected audience through sites like eBay, YouTube and Facebook. While other nations have tried to limit their citizens' access to the Internet, most Americans have been strong supporters of a free and open Internet with equal opportunities for everyone, fighting against proposed legislation like SOPA and PIPA that would hamper their digital independence. Thanks to the efforts of digital pioneers like Jobs and Gates and the continued support of a free Internet from the American people, Americans now have great opportunities in the digital realm as well as the physical realm.

Throughout history and up into the present, Americans are presented with limitless opportunities. From the eastern shores in the 17th century, to the great western frontier in the 19th century, to the digital frontier of the 21st century, Americans throughout time clearly demonstrate their ability to face a new challenge and become their own person. Though some may say that Americans are faced with limited opportunity set by social and economic barriers, Americans have and always will share the experience of limitless opportunity.