In 1992 at the age of five, I sat with my great grandparents and watched Ronald Reagan address his last convention. “Now is a time for choosing,” he said. I did just that; I stood up in the living room and declared to my FDR Democrat Great Grandparents, “I am Republican.” Grandma Thelma said that was a silly notion that would not last long. Little did she know it was not a passing notion, it would become my mantra. There have been several places that have strengthened my Republican spirit: my mother, my family’s small business, and my own life experiences.
I grew up in a typical household, until first grade. That fall, my father’s addictions spilled over. It had been a matter of time; my father lived in a dangerous world that spun out of control. My father became a stranger. My mother divorced my dad mid-way through the year. We moved from the house we had called home, and moved to a small three-bedroom apartment. I said good-bye to my power-wheel, my playroom, and the giant backyard where my youth was spent. Little did I know, this was because my father had racked up a huge debt. For the next three years we lived in the small apartment, my mother worked two jobs. When times got tough, my Great Grandparents and Grandparents would chip in. My mother kept a ledger with every penny she was ever given. She knew Dad and Grandpa would never let her pay it back. She however, rarely asked for the help. In all the time at the apartment, my mother paid back the massive debt, of my father, while providing for two growing boys. Never once did she go on government assistance. To this day my mother is proud of never becoming dependent on government hand-outs.
Chris Warden presents the $500 scholarship to Will.
My mother’s influence showed me that never quitting, working hard, and love of one’s family could get you through tough times. My mother would work 80’s a week if she had too; we never knew this growing up. I only found out after I graduated high school. My mother kept her burden to herself and provided a life of comfort for her children. While working hours on end, my mother never missed on concert, recital, sporting event, or any other special moment in the life of my brother and I. My mother taught me that dedication to family and a parent’s face in the crowd meant a lot to me. Through her, I became an independent, capable, and responsible young man.
The second place that made me a Republican was my families’ businesses. In Billings one family owns a small auto parts store and in Winifred Grandpa operates a farm and ranch. Grandpa Bill has always been a Republican with an attitude. Bill has always maintained that America will not be starved; we must feed our own. Since the beginning of the 1970’s America’s Farm and Ranchers have struggled to keep operations going. While at the same time being victimized by Liberals in Washington D.C. Grandpa’s largest concern was that he would not be able to pass on the land his hands worked for decades. The Death Tax would prevent enough land from being passed on to keep the farm from success. This fight over a tax is much more than dollar signs in my family. It is to preserve a way of life. I never met my great-grandpa john, but I have stood in the barn he built. I have mended fence he built, I have harvested in the small fields he once harvested. This is a fight to keep the connections with our past. This is about family, Democrats don’t understand the concept of land rich and dirt poor, we do.
A few hours south of the ranch, my maternal Grandparents started a small business in the late 1970’s. “The shop” as it became affectionately known in our family. It has been a staple and center of my family since it first opened. Grandma and Grandpa got a small loan from the bank and their parents. With that small amount, they bought a piece of land, and built a small store on it. They bought some wrecked cars and parts. What began all those years ago has grown into a thriving small business that employs 10 people. My grandparents taught that daring to dream and taking a chance can pay off. With hard work, dedication, and a drive for success, you can achieve great things. When you venture to provide for yourself and your family, you are embarking on the American Dream.
The final aspect that has made me a proud Republican is my own decisions. The first major influence in my life was beginning cub scouts, which culminated in achieving the rank of Eagle Scout. Of 100 boys who enter cub scouts, only one will become an Eagle Scout. I was proud to have achieved the rank, becoming the fourth person in my family to do so. In Scouts, we learn the values of moral conviction, mental acuity, and physical ability. In high school, I found a new group of friends. All were active in the community and avoided trouble. They invited me to come to a group meeting; the group was High School Democrats. At the time, I went, I did not think much about it. I sat there for a half hour, all they did was complain about President George W. Bush and where America was. I got up and left, the next day I began collecting signatures for High School Republicans. We founded the first group in Billings public school history. I re-learned that I did not want to be a part of something that was negative and only cared about trash talking everything. I wanted to belong to a party that had options, that was about alternatives, and about long-term solutions.
Since declaring myself a Republican all those years ago, I have learned to be independent, to love my family, to build my dreams, and be thankful to live in the United States of America. I have been taught to dream big, to reach for the stars, and never quit. Even if my life knows failures, my life will never be a failure. This is grounded in the simple and overwhelming fact that my family will always love me. I am only the second person in my family to attend an actual four-year College. This reality has been built on the foundation laid from the day Great-Great Grandpa O’Donnell stepped foot on American soil. He was the first member of my family to arrive in America, and today I know his Irish eyes would be smiling. My family and my own personal journeys have made me a proud Republican, and the inspiration of others has only cemented my status.