SCHONEKER: A King of an American Dream



Jake Schoneker

Last summer, some friends and I decided to look for this “American dream” we had all been hearing about. I had just finished a year of studying abroad – a time that had filled me with these burning questions about life in America.

We live like kings. We’re blessed to be born in the richest nation in history, and yet for all our wealth, we are the unhappiest and most socially unequal developed nation in the world.

What had happened to our dream? We packed a van with all our things and set off on the road to find out, and before long, we found ourselves pulling into Washington, D.C.

It was approaching dawn as we found our way to the Lincoln Memorial. We settled on the steps and waited for the sun to come up. It was in that dim morning light I started to brood on America.

Were we falling apart? We had a war that no one could understand and a leader that nobody liked.

We argued over how best to torture terrorists and kick out immigrants, rather than how to provide better health care, education and environmental protection for our children.

We were becoming fatter, lazier, greedier, more destructive and less happy as a people. Worst of all, my generation seemed powerless, beaten down by our frustrations.

In front of me was the Capitol building, where change happens, but it was far, far away and hard to make out in the shadow of the morning. Between us, the Washington Monument stood tall and told us to go home. “There is no change,” it said. It was this huge totem of power, this insurmountable mountain blocking us from progress.

Its reflection danced in the pool below, and dozens of ducks swam through its blurred image. These foolish waterfowl thought they were changing something – just like us. They quacked and scurried about, but at the end of the day they found it was just an illusion. The real symbol of power was still standing over them and always would.

Was this America? I was beginning to believe it. But then, through the trees, I saw hope. It was small at first – a faint light – but it grew and grew until at last the sun hurtled into the sky, blinding us, filling us with new energy. Suddenly, in the new light, the scene looked very different to me.

We weren’t sitting in the shadow of some huge oppressor. We were sitting on the historic steps of change. These were Lincoln’s steps – Lincoln, a great American who rose from humble beginnings to lead our nation through its most tumultuous times.

It was here too, on these very steps, that Dr. King dared to dream, dared to challenge a system that was wrong. Martin Luther King Jr. fought and died for what he believed was right, even if America didn’t agree with him (yet).

Suddenly, I felt proud to be an American and filled with faith in its ability to overcome itself. I stood with my companions, filled with the youthful energy that this country was built on, and took off out west to chase our own dream wherever it might take us.

American greatness comes from America’s ability to transform, and part of being an American is having the courage to change it.

As a young nation we stood for freedom and sovereignty, and though we have gone through many fundamental changes as a society, freedom is still the dream that we strive for.

We have chased our ideals through wars, tragedies, booms and depressions, but through it all, we have never stopped dreaming for a better future.

When Martin Luther King Jr. stood for freedom, he joined a long and storied history of American men and women who have brought change to our society.

To be American today is to not resign us to the system in which we live – but to stand up, climb the steps of the future and take our place among those who have fought for a better world.

So despite the frustration that I see on the faces of Americans today, despite the hardships, the ignorance and the partisan power that tears us apart, I know that soon a new generation of Kings will rise up to transform our society and remind us to dream again.


Jake Schoneker is a senior humanities and political science major from Landsdale, Pa. He can be reached at [email protected].