michelle grochocinskiBy MICHELLE GROCHOCINSKI, University of Chicago

First Prize, Essay, College/University

Daniel Inouye’s inherent, assumed selflessness struck me, a millennial living in culture of exaggerated self-importance and individualism—manifestations of the Twitter age. People of my generation preach and protest for social justice, but at the end of the day we return to our personal anxieties about deadlines and college loans.

As a university student and aspiring social worker, I engage in countless dialogues about institutionalized oppression and my passion for policy reformation, but I feel trapped in an academic bubble, unable to act and carry out the changes I so desire.

Daniel Inouye’s accomplishments as a war hero and senator are impressive in their own right, but it was his smaller actions of collectivism that inspired me. Here is a true activist. Here is one who does not merely preach and prattle — no, he is the opposite, incredibly humble. Daniel Inouye demonstrated his passion for social justice via his actions throughout his entire life.

Inouye’s main concern as a soldier, along with his Japanese American companions, was to honor his family. I am touched by this sentiment. So many of us fall into self-centered routines in our everyday lives, ignoring news of foreign violence; we cannot achieve the selflessness of these soldiers even at the prime of our lives. Inouye followed through with this attitude despite incredible hardships.

In the aftermath of his final battle, Inouye’s arm was blown off and he was shot through the stomach, yet he still took care of his men before himself: he arranged them into defensive positions to ensure their safety even while he was bleeding to death. During his interview, Inouye chose not to capitalize on his own (impossibly impressive) sacrifices and accomplishments, but to commend the African American soldiers whose blood donations saved his life and praise their act of giving to strangers.

To repay their generosity, Inouye did not write a simple written thank-you; he joined the fight for equality for minorities. Again, he acted. And through his actions, he helped give a voice to many silenced peoples.

Inouye concluded his interview by encouraging the young to study history, to study the stories of persons who were not just individuals but community members, whose solidarity created change. Study what has been done.

I am inspired to learn beyond philosophy and theory. My plans to be a force of positive change have always involved the future: after my degree, after I’m licensed, after I’ve saved enough to support myself comfortably. Daniel Inouye has taught me that I can act now.

My behavior must follow my attitudes. I might not yet be learned enough to enter the fight for large-scale change, but small actions of selflessness now build the community that we need to push for policy reformation in the future. They are worthwhile in and of themselves. Living for others humbly and earnestly like Daniel Inouye will help me to be a true voice for victims of oppression.

I am a clinical social work graduate student interested in breaking the cycles of poverty and incarceration on a macro level and relieving depression and anxiety on an individual level. Daniel Inouye has been more than an inspiration to me; he is a personal idol, and I was honored to pay homage to his accomplishments. When I’m not striving to follow his example and better the world, you can find me reading, drawing, weight lifting, and enjoying nature.


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