Outgoing Rantoul Township High School senior Hunter Clifton was named Rantoul Exchange Club student of the year. She was also named Exchange district student of the year. Following is the essay that she submitted to be considered for the awards and which she read at last week’s Exchange Club meeting.

By HUNTER CLIFTON

For Rantoul Press

"You are a citizen, and citizenship carries responsibilities"  — Paul Collier.

Citizenship can be interpreted in many different ways, but it can mostly be related to belonging to a larger whole. Every American citizen has a responsibility to make our country the greatest it can be.  

This could mean being involved in our local communities, in our state, or even in the nation.  However, at each of those levels, it is important to remember that each citizen should be aiming to make America great.  

Some citizens do not realize how important it is to be responsible. Communities, states and the nation as a whole are relying on each of us to make it a greater place.  

Paul Collier had it right; we all carry responsibilities to make America strong.

The local level is the most important to me. Being involved in my community has made me into the person I am today. Although my town might not have the greatest reputation, I have been working and continue to work to change that.  

My high school career has given me many opportunities to make my community stronger.  For example, during my junior year, a fellow classmate noticed that our school did not do a good enough job at giving respect to our country every day we were at school. So with the help of all of the Student Council executive board, we created a program in our school to fix that.  As a result, a high school student has said the Pledge of Allegiance every day on the intercom since then.  

With that one student speaking up, more students and teachers now not only recite the Pledge daily, but they also see how important America is and have improved their level of respect for our country.

Student Council’s goal was to do just that, and we have greatly achieved that goal.

Through this small action, I believe that America is becoming stronger.

The state level is important to make America stronger as well.  The state has to be a place where citizens all do their duty to make the state run efficiently. All citizens of a state have the responsibility to follow the laws of that state. In addition, everyone is entitled to their own opinions, and it is extremely important for citizens to not only know how to but also be able to express their opinions in a positive manner, even if they are disagreeing with the decisions made by elected officials.  

During my senior year of high school, I had the opportunity to go to the Illinois State Capitol. While I was there, I was able to speak with representatives and senators about something I am very passionate about, Career and Technical Education (CTE). In an effort to convince them not to cut funding for those programs, we explained to them what CTE is and how it positively impacts so many aspects of so many lives.  

CTE is what prepares students for the work force. CTE includes classes like business, agriculture, consumer education and technology.

Students learn skills that they can use when they get a job and also important skills for living in the adult world. Using this experience, I realized how important it is to be a responsible citizen and speak my beliefs. Some legislators had no idea what CTE entails. Just by going and speaking with them, we enabled them to see just how important this aspect of education is and how it affects students, communities and even the state in a positive way.  

If more citizens speak up at the state level, it can help communities and the nation as a whole improve greatly and make America stronger.

The community level and state level work together to make up the national level.

Our nation is made up of citizens that need and rely on each other to work together.

All citizens have the responsibility to do everything they can to make the country better. One thing that each of us can do is to exercise our right to vote. The 2016 presidential election is the first election that I get to be a part of. When I walked into the voting polls during the primaries, I questioned myself as to whether my one vote would make a difference. However, the more I thought about it, I realized I was doing just that. When I voted, I was taking part in an important event in our country.  

I spent the months leading up to the primaries researching the candidates. I wanted to ensure that I was well informed when I walked into the polling booths. It is very important for everyone to do this. Citizens must make sure that they know the difference between what the news/social media say about the candidates and the political parties versus what actually may be true.  

Both sources of information that I mentioned above can be very biased towards one side or the other. In addition, it is crucial that citizens develop morals and decide who they want to vote for based on what we, the voters, decide is important to us. Many people voted based on what their parents or friends say, but I believe citizens should vote with their conscience and vote in a way that will improve the lives of all Americans.

This simple task like voting can make America a much stronger nation.

In order to be a responsible citizen, I believe it is crucial to participate in any way we can at the community, state and national level. America relies on its citizens to make it strong. Without citizens doing their responsibilities, the country would not run as smoothly.  

Paul Collier’s quote is something that every person should remember. Being an American citizen is a great privilege that we should not take for granted. Using my experiences in high school, I have been able to see how important it is to do my duties as a citizen.  I hope that through my example, my peers will also strive to be accountable citizens that help contribute to a stronger America and be able to pass that on to future generations.

Hunter Clifton was salutatorian for the RTHS class of 2016, which graduated Friday.