Exchange Club students

Pictured are Carlisle Exchange Club President Bob Taylor, Celia Christenson from Boiling Springs High School, Emma Stone from Carlisle High School, Madalyn Seiler from Big Spring High School, and guest speaker Col. (Ret.) Chuck Allen.

I share with you my recent remarks at the Carlisle Exchange Club’s Youth of the Year banquet:

What a great day we have been given to serve together! I am especially glad to be here with the Carlisle Exchange Club. Your members have embraced the charge to create opportunities for service right here in our Greater Carlisle community.

As I found on your website, you adhere to the principles of the National Exchange Club, and, accordingly your key programs of service include the areas of Americanism, youth programs, community service, and prevention of child abuse. This is my fifth time speaking at this event and I am honored to be invited back for these impressive students.

Today for this Youth of the Year recognition, I would like to reflect on the opportunity and obligation for service to our American ideals by our awardees whom we honor here this evening. In doing so, I will focus my remarks on our youth, our generational connection, and on the concept of Americanism.

I have read the biographies and award nomination packets of the three students we celebrate tonight. They are remarkable young people — each in their own right — Madalyn Seiler (Big Spring High School), Celia Christensen (Boiling Springs High School), and Emma Stone (Carlisle High School). They are bright with GPAs of 4.0 or higher. They are accomplished having received numerous recognition for their academic, athletic, and civic, leadership achievements. They are driven.

What perhaps sets them apart from others who might be here tonight is that they were also provided opportunity. Opportunity enabled them to overcome challenges and press forward, even in the face of uncertainty, and these young Americans have chosen to serve when and where needed — they have learned to do so by watching the exemplars in their lives — parents, neighbors, teachers, and coaches.

Over the course of the high school years of our honorees we have closed out a series of anniversaries of historic events. Think of the commemorations for the Battle of Gettysburg, the start of World War I, the end of War World II with victories in Europe and the Pacific, the end of the Vietnam War, and the victory of Operation Desert Storm. And we had the annual observances of Sept. 11, 2001.

As a military officer, I have traveled and lived in many countries. Throughout my journeys it is clear to me that our national flag is recognized and engenders respect from friends and adversaries, alike. It makes the statement of American values and principles that continues to endure through our contentious system of governance with its unique checks and balances. Even with our shortcomings, American citizens are envied throughout the world.

And for those seeking better lives for themselves and their children, our Statue of Liberty proclaims: “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free. The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed, to me: I lift my lamp beside the golden door.”

Beside that door, the lamp illuminates the American flag. I must note that there is not a “no vacancy” sign above Freedom’s Door; America is “not full” — as we diligently seek to fulfill its promise.

This past week I was in New York City as part of our annual U.S. Army War College trip. For many of our students (who include international officers), it was their first time in the “Big” city. It is an icon of the American society that our military serves. It is busy, noisy, brash, and quintessentially American. Amid the great diversity of people and multicultural offerings, the American flag is ubiquitous.

Wherever the America flag flies, it is a clear statement of our ideals and values — such a statement is important at the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) Headquarters in Mons Belgium as well as the United Nations Plaza in New York City. It is a statement of commitment to our allies and partners, as well as a statement of watchful diligence to our current and potential adversaries.

On a Friday afternoon, I rode the “1” train downtown to the World Trade Center stop. I walked over to the 9-11 Memorial and took a moment to remember what happened day in 2001, and the years since. I turned to look at the building One World Trade Center then lifted my head, straining to see the top — this “Freedom Tower” rises symbolically 1,776 feet above the ground; it overlooks New York Harbor, Ellis Island, and the Statue of Liberty.

While national trends exhibit self-interest and growing pessimism among our citizens, I have witnessed generosity and hope in our Carlisle community and its service organizations, like the Exchange Club.

It is wholly appropriate that the Exchange Club essays of our honorees addressed the topic, “Being a Catalyst in My Community.” I have read each of their thoughtful essays. It is clear that Celia, Emma, and Madalyn are heeding the words attributed to Mahatma Gandhi: “Be the change you wish to see in the world.”

Their Generation Z will shape the future of our country and make America strong in accordance with its founding principles. They will need our support and patience as they learn to lead.

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Retired Army Col. Charles D. Allen is a professor of leadership and cultural studies at the Army War College.