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Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. remarked, “Man is man because he is free to operate within the framework of his destiny. He is free to deliberate, to make decisions, and to choose between alternatives.” When I was younger, the only decisions I truly had to make were whether I was going to eat French fries or whether I was going to play outside. Every decision, whether subliminal or direct, that I have made in my life has been for my sole benefit. Why is it that people try to make decisions for other people who are capable of making decisions for themselves? Why do people criticize my decisions? My life choices are not their decisions to make. It is not their life that hangs in the balance. It is not their success that is at risk. They are not the ones who are doomed to carry the fire of destiny within the torch of responsibility and walk the path of life. What is the point of this criticism?

For most of my years in high school, I was in ROTC, and the hardest decision I had to make was choosing to leave ROTC. I loved the fun events that we went to, including the Virginia International Tattoo. While in ROTC, I had a staff job with many responsibilities. But within a week after school started, my enjoyment and my willingness to be part of ROTC suddenly vanished. Everything that I had loved in ROTC had suddenly become like a curse or burden that would bother me for the rest of my high school life if I chose to stay. In a sense I had become dependent on ROTC to help me enjoy my high school life, to strengthen my disciplinary and leadership skills, and to mold me into a better citizen. I felt as if there was a bigger plan or mission but that I was nothing more than a pawn.

I had come to the realization that I had to make a choice that would impact my life and my success. I thought about the pros and cons of staying or leaving the class. I made my mental T charts and put them on paper and saw that the pros to leaving surpassed all of the cons. So I did what I felt was best for me and left the class. Yes, I may have left behind the fun events, the leadership, the fun times that I had with my fellow cadets and staff members, and the ability to connect with the military, but I did what was best for me to ensure my success.

Centuries before Dr. King made his statement on destiny and decision making, President Thomas Jefferson argued, “All through your life, you’ll be faced with making a decision between two things - choose the one that is right. If they are both right, then choose the one that will make you feel the best about it at the end of the day.” Throughout my childhood, I have depended on others to help make decisions for me. Now I feel that the torch of responsibility has been passed from the ancient realm of my ancestors down to me. I have been granted the power to choose between the path of success or the path of failure. When I graduate in June, I will look back at my life through elementary, middle, and high school with new eyes and new thoughts. I will look at my decisions, and I want to be able to say that I am proud and that I regret nothing.

© Akiles Malone. All rights reserved. If you are interested in quoting this story, contact the national team and we can put you in touch with the author’s teacher.