The Forum on Democracy’s American Dream essay contest

| 31 Jul 2023 | 04:00

The Forum on Democracy is a group of former government leaders, professors, cultural anthropologists, researchers and other experts who came together in the aftermath of the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection to initiate conversations on Democracy’s biggest problems and how democratic systems can solve problems.

Part of that effort was to sponsor an essay content that asked people to define the American Dream.

The Forum’s criteria was theme, originality, presentation and creativity. The winners, announced here for the first time, are:

First place: Aaron Lefkowitz ($250)

The summary: The ability to achieve anything by applying effort and skill. The American Dream is for everyone.

Second place: Martha Storms (essay entered by her daughter Lauren Storms Kurish) ($150)

Summary: A teacher’s story about the fifth grade class of 10-year-olds preparing a time capsule in 1976 to be opened in 2076. Their contributions represent the perceptions of our youth and how reality is presented to youth and citizens.

Third place: David Cole ($50)

Summary: This represents the needed work of a team member and the importance of working with others as a team. Even if the goal is not achieved, learning takes place.


The American Dream ‘ is the eternal belief in a brighter and truly better tomorrow for all’

By Aaron Lefkowitz

The American Dream means having the ability to achieve anything with the right amount of effort and skill.

In this nation of ours, there is no such thing as limitations and even when we believe there is, someone finds a way to go beyond. Taking a cue from a comedy show, Americans do not stop, just because we are criticized; we keep going till we have reached the mountain top and we find a new mountain to climb.

‘The flame of aspiration’

This was the mantra in the 1960s as we pursued the Herculean task of getting a man to the Moon. Perhaps the ideals of going where no one has gone before is the spirit being harnessed as we begin a new voyage back to the Moon and beyond, the flame of aspiration is invincible.

My grandfather came to America with nothing but the clothes on his back, a wife and two children after losing everything in the Second World War.

Within less than 20 years of arriving in this country, he had become successful and bought a brand-new Cadillac as a symbol of not just achievement, but as a successful American. Nothing was given to him. It all was paid for in blood, sweat and tears from countless days and nights of strenuous work.

Not everyone can achieve great things, unfortunately; still the virtue of believing in a brighter future is as American as the Stars and Stripes.

People often remark about “Nepo Babies,” those born into wealth, who live carefree and frivolously. Undoubtedly, we hear about this and look on with annoyance, but at the same time, there is a desire to also live vivaciously. Prosperity has never been easy to catch, though there is far more opportunity than the days of Rockefeller or Carnegie, both who started empty handed and only through grit, wit and strategy were able to build their mighty empires. During good times, there is feast and for more arduous ones, there is famine. Hardships are always difficult, but it can indeed serve as motivation for preparation to prevent the next generation from such problems.

‘No such thing as good enough’

We each “dream” differently. Some people want a car as expensive as a house. Others want a home large enough to have its own zip code, while there are the concise few who only want to be able to enjoy life with those they love.

Many desire to see all that this great land has to offer from the shores of the oceans, to the seemingly endless natural splendor and even the several notable amusement parks.

To me, the greatest dream is to live, however I so chose, without any worry.

Regardless of what one accomplishes, there is always the hunger to become more. There is no such thing as good enough.

Our nation is not one without its faults, but no country, regardless of grandeur, is immune to shortcomings. However, unlike many of other places, we do not ignore, deny or shy away from these blemishes. As the saying goes, the first step in solving a problem is to acknowledge you have one. Only by recognizing where we fall short can we truly move forward and create a more perfect union.

So much has changed for the better in just my lifetime and my parents as well as the older generations tell me of all the progress, they themselves have seen. I know that in the future, a new America, more open and overall, better will emerge.

The American Dream does not stop at merely personal accolades. It is the eternal belief in a brighter and truly better tomorrow for all.

Aaron Lefkowitz is the first-place winner of the The Forum on Democracy’s essay contest to define “The American Dream.”


The American Dream: Through the eyes of children

By Martha Storms

In the year preceding the 200th birthday of our country, I was a ten-year veteran teacher teaching fifth grade Language Arts and Social Studies at the Lounsberry Hollow Middle School in Vernon Township, N.J.

Having seen a newspaper article about the opening of a box buried in Monsey, N.Y., to commemorate the centennial of our country in 1876, I decided that making our own time capsule for our country’s 200th birthday might be a fitting project for my class.

More than 140 items to define the times

After lengthy discussion with the children about what kinds of things we should include and how such items could be preserved for 100 years, we decided to begin the project. So, we gathered items, wrote letters, and prepared more than 140 items to place in our capsule, until its final burial, facing the school, and to the right of the flagpole, on June 14, 1976.

On that day we had an outdoor program with speeches, special guests, school band and chorus presentations, and a visit from the Second Sussex Militia.

Our time capsule will have been buried for 100 years in 2076, our country’s Tricentennial (or Tercentennial). Having this story in my memory when I saw the headline, “250 Years Later, what will We Celebrate?” I thought it would be interesting to look back to see what ten-year-olds were celebrating in 1976 and what they wanted people in the future to still celebrate about our great country.

The environment, patriotism, a Barbie doll

As I looked over the list of items they thought were important to preserve, certain themes became evident. One that stood out prominently was their concern for the environment. They wanted to enclose a pheasant wing, a plaster cast of a deer’s hoof print, a Burpee Catalogue with a packet of Senator Dirkson white marigold seeds, and reports about deer, turtles and hummingbirds. They thought these things from nature might become extinct in 100 years.

Another theme that came across strongly was their patriotism and admiration of our leaders. They included signatures of President Gerald R. Ford, Vice President Nelson Rockefeller and New Jersey Governor Brendon Byrne. They also added a U.S. Flag, Bicentennial coins/stamps, and a video tape from 1975. Th tape covered such topics as: Vietnam Refugees, the Middle East Crisis and a book review about Watergate. The students also felt it was important to include a WIN button (Whip Inflation Now).

Of course, there were items that ten-year-olds thought the children of the future would want to have for their “pursuit of happiness” such as: sports information, Bazooka bubble gum, a Barbie doll, an empty Coke bottle, and a list of all their names with photographs.

The capsule is to be opened on July 4, 2076.

The cylinder, an old salt container, was decorated by the students in red, white and blue felt (stars and stripes). Then it was enclosed in a stainless steel tube fabricated, and donated, by Fluid Dynamics Corp (later, Brunswick Corp.) of Cedar Knolls, N.J. The air has been removed and replaced by an inert gas, Argon.

Who we are ...

My hope is that this small glance back at 50 years, through the eyes of children, can answer some of today’s questions about who we were, why we were and where we will be 50 years from now.

Martha Storms of Hamburg, N.J., was the second-place winner in the Forum on Democracy’s “American Dream” essay contest.


‘Working with others ... to obtain The American Dream’

By David A. Cole

America has always been the land of opportunity and what I have done is live in different areas of the United States during my lifetime to pursue the American Dream.

I have met different folks from different strokes and, as my late father once said, “People are People.” I was raised on the foundation that it is certainly “Okay to agree to disagree.” It is what makes democracy great.

I have led organizational efforts in my favorite hobby, chess, as I am an accomplished National Chess Master under the auspices of the U.S. Chess Federation.

A longshot bid

My proudest moment was relocating to St. Louis way back in 1991 and was the chairman of the U.S. Open Committee to bid for the 1994 event. Even though St. Louis did not get that U.S. Open, I was complimented on the efforts that I put forth and was highly appreciated for what I did.

I knew that the bid was going to be a longshot and led the committee with that philosophy, “It is Okay to Agree to Disagree.” Each of my committee members were comfortable with voicing their ideas without the fear of being shot down. Some of my ideas were shot down mainly because I was unfamiliar with what the St. Louis area could offer or that my committee was unfamiliar with what I was proposing.

I did hand deliver the bid to the U.S. Chess Federation which was in New Windsor, N.Y., and made the bid presentation at the 1991 U.S. Open in Los Angeles, California. The decision makers were impressed that “I went coast to coast” on trying to get the bid rewarded to St. Louis.

Learning to be a leader

After that failed bid attempt, I wanted to have one last meeting with my committee. My father and others quickly said, “You don’t want to do that, son.”

So I just wrote a letter disbanding the committee and complimenting our efforts and learn from that failure. I said that I was proud of them for their contributions and really learned what leadership was all about.

And that is what it is all about, working with other peoples’ ideas and perspectives to obtain “The American Dream.”

David A. Cole is the third-place winner of the Forum on Democracy’s “American Dream” essay contest.