Being an American means a lot to me. When I sing "The Star-Spangled Banner," my voice cracks with emotion. Each year I watch the Memorial Day commemoration on PBS and get teary-eyed.

The Fourth of July is a holiday that makes me grateful my grandparents had the courage to leave Europe to find a safe environment.

In 1776 one of the Founding Fathers, Thomas Jefferson, wrote what is now the United States' most famous and cherished document. It was written to justify the colonies breaking away from the mother country and becoming an independent nation. The Declaration of Independence was adopted by the Continental Congress on July 4, 1776.

Independence Day is not only about the colonies officially declaring their freedom. It's about celebrating the values that this country was founded upon. The Declaration of Independence declares "that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness."

At the time this was written, many of the Founding Fathers owned slaves. Even after the Emancipation Proclamation abolished slavery, many Americans were slaves in different ways. Child labor was rampant. Immigrants were taken advantage of. Sweat shops existed.

Although we've come a long way - could Thomas Jefferson ever imagine that an African-American would someday be president?

There is still corruption and abuses of freedom remain, and some people fail to find the road to happiness.

I've heard it said that it is now more difficult for someone to start at the bottom and get to the top. This may be true, but K-12 education continues to be a guaranteed right. This is not true of many other countries. It wasn't so long ago that I was vacationing in Spain and learned that children had to pay to go to elementary school.

In addition, libraries are not only free but librarians are available to help. Many museums are free to children and some offer free admission to everyone at least once a month. Free concerts take place all through the summer. The Smithsonian Institution provides amazing information well worth a trip to Washington, D.C.

I know our country is not perfect, but I wouldn't want to live anywhere else.

On today's holiday, let's not forget how much blood was shed by our forebears so we can enjoy the values our country was built on.

One of my favorite Founding Fathers, John Adams, wrote to his wife Abigail, "I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated, by succeeding generations, as the great anniversary festival … it ought to be solemnized with pomp and parade, with shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires and illuminations, from one end of this continent to the other, from this time forward forever more."

Even if you don't do a lot on this holiday, take a few moments to thank the people who were courageous enough to insist we declare our independence from the England. Let's prove that John Adams was right on the mark with his prophecy!

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