Samuel Licón Kligman is valedictorian of the Coronado High School Class of 2022.This essay is drawn from his valedictorian speech at commencement.

By Samuel Licón Kligman

In a letter written shortly before his death, former United States Sen. Bob Dole urged us all “to never forget the sacrifice made not just by… (his) generation, but by all those who wear the uniform of our country.” 

Samuel Kligman

Senator Dole was a member of the Greatest Generation, an assemblage of individuals who laid down their lives to protect this country, and the world, from demagoguery. Dole himself was gravely injured during the Second World War. Nevertheless, he persevered and joined an elite group of veterans whose service to this country did not end when Japan surrendered upon the deck of the USS Missouri, but rather continued as holders of public office, safeguards of our democracy. 

And while the members of that Greatest Generation have passed on, let their legacies will be eternal: for while the despotism they protected us against was found on foreign soils, the one we, my fellow graduates, face is on our own. 

Our country has become divided with a line of demarcation segregating individuals into factions of reason and fear euphemized as “freedom.” What does this freedom entail?

“Freedom” to make the accessibility of the ballot box dependent upon your ZIP code. 

“Freedom” to withhold literature if its message compels you to reckon with your own morality. 

“Freedom” to legitimize illegitimate insurgency that strikes at the stability of our democratic foundations. 

“Freedom” to fear for your safety inside the classroom. 

And yes, “freedom” to surrender your medical discretion to the indiscretion of the state. 

This leads us to our generational burden: retaking the word “freedom.”

For the members of the Greatest Generation, there was no roadmap to relinquish the world of fascism. What there was, however, was a call to service and inspirational leaders who called upon others to summon their courage from within. 

Our generation does not have Franklin Roosevelt, Winston Churchill, or Dwight Eisenhower to serve as our exemplars of courage. Decidedly, we have our own. Our exemplars are the brave citizens of Ukraine refusing to succumb to the imperialist desires of one small autocrat. Our exemplars are the Tennessee school teachers who risk their livelihoods continuing to teach “Mausfor they know that dangerous books are the building blocks for a safe democracy. Our exemplars are the school board officials whose commitment to student safety is undeterred by the threats of intemperate mobs. 

But most of all, when I look around this room, I see our generation’s greatest hope in retaking our democracy and the word “freedom”: you. 

My final words today are the exact ones that Dwight Eisenhower and Bob Dole used to conclude their speeches in Abilene, Kansas, not so long ago: “I believe in the future of the United States of America.”

I believe in the future of the United States of America because of you. 

Thank you, and let’s be the generation that ends gun violence.