Thirty years ago, around this time of year, we immigrated to this great country. My father had blazed the trail before us one year earlier at great personal risk. He helped make it all possible. Together with my mother and baby sister, we joined him here in the fall of 1987, a week or so after my 8th birthday. Halloween was on the doorstep, a holiday I had never seen or heard about in my life. As a child, I was trying to make sense of what all the costumes, proliferate candy, and door-to-door soliciting were about. The impression it made on me continues to this day.
The process of integration into American society commenced immediately. I started the school year in 2nd grade, even though I had arrived a couple of months past the enrollment deadline. English was the only subject that required me to catch up to my peers, and in a matter of months I became fluent, even thinking in English.
My family and I attended the local Sabbath-keeping church, in what was then the little town of Murfreesboro, Tennessee. About a year later, my parents enrolled me in the church school for 3rd grade, taking me out of public school. This was a nice change of pace and I enjoyed making new friends. During the course of the year, we got to see and learn about life and nature firsthand. Looking back on those days, the seed was planted then for my interest in biology and the life sciences in general.
Soon, my father followed job opportunities to Chicago and then to Atlanta. I still have a few memories of those cold days in Chicago. By the fall of 1989, we had settled in the suburb of Norcross, nestled about 20 miles north of Georgia’s capital city. My father was driving big rigs across the country while my mother took care of my sister and me at home.
I started 4th grade at the local public school and once again learned to make new friends. As I grew older I began to find favorite subjects in school. History, the Sciences, and Music were at the top of the favorites list. Back then we were taught how great America is. We learned about its founding and early struggles. Textbooks used to describe how and why we had become a beacon of liberty and freedom for all people.
It wasn’t difficult beginning to feel like a real American, to feel pride for the ideas and sacrifices that had built and preserved this nation. Even though I was an immigrant child, it became easier to think of myself as an American. I saw my father’s strong work ethic and how he embraced opportunities here that he could have only dreamed about in communist Romania. He worked hard to provide for our family and we lacked nothing. America was good to us from the moment we arrived. It continues to be as good as you choose to make it.
During the winter of 1989 we saw TV footage of how the people of Romania toppled the communist regime. Its dictator was swiftly executed and a new government took shape. Morale was an all-time high and though I was still a child, our family’s feelings of relief and happiness were palpable. It was evident that America was positively influencing the world. The words of Ronald Reagan: “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down that wall!” had turned into action. The domino effect which had started in Poland with Lech Walesa and his Solidarity movement gained momentum as it marched across Europe. The darkness of communism was being rejected and the torch of freedom was lighting the way forward.
These early years and experiences in my adoptive country helped form me into the person I am today. “Nature and nurture” work in concert to create each of our personalities, worldviews and philosophies on life. The concepts of individual freedom and personal accountability are critical. They determine whether a person expects everything to be provided for him, or whether he makes the best of every opportunity afforded.
Having recently embarked on a 7,000-mile cross-country road trip, I appreciate America even more. Its natural beauty is without equal. Its people prove daily the spirit that binds them as countrymen. In the aftermath of horrific tragedies, we come together as one. Only the shrill voices of the political left or right would have some of us doubt our identity as Americans. Let us not fall into that trap, because doing so rekindles the oppressive fires of communism and totalitarianism.
This great nation was founded as a Constitutional representative republic. Of all mankind’s forms of governing, it is still the most enlightened. After spending 30 years growing up in, learning about, and travelling through this wonderful country, I thank my parents for the risks they took to bring us here. I thank God for creating and preserving it as a nation. Though it has many faults and has not always lived up to its intended purpose, I am proud to call it my earthly home and country.
I encourage those of you who doubt its exceptionalism to study its history more closely. Our founding fathers were wiser than we realize today. The documents they left behind tell the story of the struggles they endured in setting up our form of government. Revisionist historians and liberal progressive activists seek to undermine the ideals America was built on. They should be denied at every instance. History cannot be changed, rather we should learn from the lessons of the past and aim to build a better future.
The words of John F. Kennedy are more poignant now than ever before: “Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country.”
In closing, I want to wish my father a Happy 61st Birthday. Thanks to him, I live in freedom as a proud citizen of this great country. His courage and personal sacrifices have made it possible for me to have unequaled opportunities and I strive to make the most of them. Though I have made mistakes, I am learning from them; to do more and better in the future. He is still my role model and my hero.
I love you, Dad.
And I love you, America.
O beautiful for spacious skies,
For amber waves of grain,
For purple mountain majesties
Above the fruited plain!
God shed His grace on thee,
And crown thy good with brotherhood
From sea to shining sea!
O beautiful for pilgrim feet
Whose stern impassion’d stress
A thorough fare for freedom beat
Across the wilderness.
God mend thine ev’ry flaw,
Confirm thy soul in self-control,
Thy liberty in law.
O beautiful for heroes prov’d
In liberating strife,
Who more than self their country loved,
And mercy more than life.
May God thy gold refine
Till all success be nobleness,
And ev’ry gain divine.
O beautiful for patriot dream
That sees beyond the years
Thine alabster cities gleam
Undimmed by human tears.
God shed his grace on thee,
And crown thy good with brotherhood
From sea to shining sea.