Natalie Cook, National Merit Scholarship Sem-Finalist

Heritage School is proud to have two National Merit Scholarship Semi-Finalists, Natalie Cook and Molly Platt (an impressive accomplishment for a school our size). Natalie and Molly have submitted applications to become a National Merit Scholarship Finalist, an extremely prestigious and commendable honor. Below is Natalie's essay for Finalist consideration. (We're still working on Molly to allow us to post hers!)

I am not a die-hard sports fan. I do not follow player stats or have a Fantasy Football team. While some enjoy reliving every play of the big game over lunch with friends, I prefer to discuss current events and new music finds. When I realized that I would be in Europe during the World Cup, I did not think much of it. I flew over on the day that Germany beat America (which was expected) and therefore only mildly embarrassing. I arrived to see the town decked out: the German flag seemed to be plastered across every home and building. I asked my family if this was normal or for the World Cup. They responded assertively that this was only in honor of the game and not a common occurrence.

As a part of my Rotary Youth Exchange and living with a German host family, I had many opportunities to observe and experience Germany’s ambivalence about national pride. One day in history class, we watched a video about anti-Semitism. During the discussion, I caught bits and pieces of the conversation and understood that they were discussing the stigma Germany carries as a result of WWII. In an attempt to prove this point, the teacher asked me, in English, what comes to mind when I think of Germany. Surprised to be put on the spot, I made my best attempt to diplomatically explain that although I know that WWII is a big part of their history, I also know of other relevant, important milestones in Germany’s history and that the atrocities of the war are not the only thing that comes to mind. The class seemed very relieved. I realized that they were all afraid they might hear that I only knew of the terrible past that their country has experienced. It shocked me that my German classmates were so sensitive about an event that for me seemed to be a part of the distant past. I pondered this dilemma even as I was caught up in the excitement leading up to the World Cup Final. Each match of the finals found us at a different setting: a friend’s house, the local biergarten, or together at home. We were always dressed in jerseys, our faces painted, and on the edge of our seats. When Germany took out Algeria, we were excited, when they vanquished France, we were exuberant, and when they stomped Brazil we were flabbergasted.

With bated breath, we watched the final match against Argentina at a public park in Heilbronn along with 16,000 other fans in the freezing rain. As the clock counted down, the excitement grew until the tension in the air was tangible. The atmosphere buzzed with the excitement of a nation. When the clock reached zero, pandemonium erupted. As the fans flooded out of the park, the exhilaration overflowed into the streets. The train ride home was crazy. It could have been mistaken for a political revolution. Young men, shirtless and draped in the banner of their nation, sang songs of victory at the top of their lungs and encouraged the rest of the passengers in the sardine-packed car to join in.

It occurred to me that this game was more than just a game. It was a rallying point for the nation. This was a safe way to display their national pride without fear of receiving a disapproving glance. I realized at this point that not every country is “on the same page” because our experiences are not the same. When this dawned on, me I experienced a complete shift in perspective. This realization gave a whole new depth to my opinions not only about things like foreign policy, but also with regard to individual people. As a result of my experiences I have a newfound appreciation for the truth that the past profoundly shapes the way we live our lives in the present.

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