Marine: A better U.S. starts at home

STEUBENVILLE – A Marine officer who hails from Steubenville told students at her alma mater Friday they can make America better by becoming knowledgeable about issues affecting their country and exercising their right to vote.

Marine Master Sgt. Shannon Sweeney served as guest speaker at the 35th-annual Honor America assembly held by the Steubenville High School Key Club and attended by the school’s students and fourth-graders from Wells Academy.

A 1987 graduate of Steubenville High School, Sweeney is assigned to the 4th Marine Logistics Group in Charlotte, N.C., and served previously as regimental armorer for three battalions, a member of the hurricane disaster recovery team that rescued civilians stranded by Hurricane Katrina and Toys for Tots coordinator for the 3rd Battalion Weapons Co. in Moundsville.

Sweeney said at a time when disputes among Congress led to the recent 16-day government shutdown, it may be hard for some to take pride in one’s nation.

But she said there’s never been a time when Americans were unified completely on all issues. She noted when George Washington crossed the Delaware River during the American Revolution there were more Americans serving the British than for the troops called to fight for America’s independence.

Sweeney said everyone is well aware of the division that spawned the Civil War.

She said even during World War II, when many rallied to support America’s military efforts against Nazi aggression, the brave black fighter pilots known as the Tuskegee Airmen faced discrimination even among their own government.

Sweeney said though our nation’s founders knew there would not be a time when all Americans agreed, they based its government upon priniciples of basic freedoms that everyone can embrace.

She described America’s democracy as a clock whose hands move forward only through the interworking of many parts.

“We all are a part of that clock and have a stake in making it work,” Sweeney said.

She encouraged the students to further their educations and seek role models who have received attention for their accomplishments and not fleeting fame.

Sweeney also encouraged them to learn about issues affecting the country and exercise their right to vote. If they don’t, they “have forfeited the most precious right of any democracy,” she said.

Those attending the assembly also heard of the value of America’s freedoms through Derek Ziarko, an eighth-grader at Harding Middle School and winner of the Key Club’s Honor America essay contest.

Zierko read his essay, which states, “Freedom of speech helps the government operate smoothly by having the people speak out their ideas so the government can meet the needs of the people. After all, the people elect the leaders of the government.”

He added freedom of assembly offers another chance for citizens to exchange ideas and protest government actions, even on a worldwide scale, they deem wrong.

Zierko wrote that freedom of religion wasn’t a right that American colonists easily embraced. But over time, it has brought many people to the U.S. and allowed the formation of many different types of churches as Americans of various backgrounds seek happiness in their own way.

“All these things show America can be fair and free to itself and its citizens. There are many more things about America that make it beautiful,” he wrote.

“Hopefully, more people will take the time to realize and appreciate the opportunities and freeoms America has to offer,” Ziarko concluded.

Also participating in the assembly were the school’s chorus and band under the direction of Scott Wolodkin and Rick Hicks, respectively; Ted Gorman, the school’s assistant principal; senior class representative Cody Saltsman and the following Key Club officers: Dennis Filippi, president; Bryan Pierro, vice president; Casey Gentile, secretary; Farrah Marcino, program director; and Chris Starliper, sergeant-at-arms.