Fourth of July: Thoughts and Reflections of a Teenage Student

Published on Jul 16, 2019

A week and a half has passed since this year’s celebration of the Fourth of July that commemorated the Second Continental Congress’s approval of the U.S. Declaration of Independence from Great Britain back in 1776.

⚡ Want to learn more about the history behind US Independence? Watch: AP US History The American Revolution

On the same date in 2019, hot dog stands popped up (at least for my city), department store prices were low enough to rank second or third behind Black Friday’s, and employees called nights off to watch the local fireworks display with their families and friends. Despite the repetitive nature of these preparations every year, I never grew tired of seeing them. In fact, I often get surprised with their growing popularity each year.

The Perspective Change: “Wow!” to “Hmm…”

I remember my childhood self as very enthusiastic with anything that either sparkled or made a loud sound: firecrackers, sparklers, lightning, the list goes on; that makes me no stranger to demonstrations like ones done at national holidays. As a child, though, all I did was stare in amazement as I boisterously shouted at the fireworks in the air as they came in waves with absolute flamboyance. One time even while standing at the top of our family car, I was yelling “Wow!” and “That’s so COOL!” again and again until I was reduced to a coughing little runt due to a dry throat.

Growing up, however, changed this personality of mine into a more apathetic one, which isn’t necessarily better or worse. The excited shrieking eventually faded into less enthusiastic groans that were between “Huh, neat” and “Ooh, heart-shaped fireworks… that’s new.” The last time I left such snide remarks was about three years ago which was also the last time I ever went to a fireworks display. I was 13 at the time – the age where unnecessary drama between similarly aged kids and awkwardness emerges. Thankfully, my family and I got the chance to view the fireworks this year and boy, we wasted no time in preparing for the big day (or more appropriately, night)!

The Reconnaissance Before the Battle Begins

We arrived about three hours before the show at a tent site situated atop a cliff which my uncle and his co-workers had set up at an earlier time. The food trucks and the rest of the crowds are situated along the roads below. To spend the time, I went up and down a couple of times through an inclined trail. I roamed around the common area to size up both the food choices and the number of attendees that was present.

The scene was something that you’re surely familiar of: foldable chairs and mini-tents were set-up, portable toilets were lined up in a jagged line, bands performed while onlookers danced and adorable kids, and dogs played with each other as their parents and owners lined up to buy some food. While it was indeed a while since my last attendance at a Fourth of July show, I regularly helped out at annual and seasonal festivals and as a result, I saw the undeniable similarities between both events: both involved groups of people who just wanted to have a fun time and take a break.

As I headed back up, I found myself smiling out of nowhere. Was it out of habit after weeks of fast food hospitality training? Or was it because of reminiscing past memories from other events I volunteered at? Either way, only the me who eerily grinned at that exact moment would know exactly the reason behind it.

The Overlap Between Science and Reality

Fast forward to nine o’clock PM. Glow stick and kiddie toy vendors have long since popped up as evidenced by the number of kids playing with their minuscule contraptions that shone in the dark as they rose and fell amidst the evening sky. The first loud blast interrupted our group’s barbecue and Mexican music playlist session. Everyone stopped what they were doing and frantically looked at every direction for its general location, and those who haven’t found it at first finally pinpointed it at the subsequent fireworks ignited.

Strangely enough, my mind went back to the moment my CHEM 100 summer class professor was talking in lab about how the ignition of fireworks excited electrons (negative sub-atomic particles that are minuscule) and how they reverted back to their initial states by giving back the energy they absorbed in the form of the heat and light that you and I see in fireworks displays. After thinking of that, I was both amused proud of myself that I get to apply my knowledge of chemistry to real-world scenarios.

⚡ Curious about chemistry? See our lineup of AP Chemistry resources!

A Mishmash of Technology and Nature

As I recorded the show through my phone, a random thought popped into my head: what difference would it make if I just view it firsthand instead of recording it? That idea went down a slippery slope of flashbacks until it ended with my mother’s words of wisdom: you may take pictures or record videos to replay them in the future, but live in the moment and bask in the present. Looking around, I saw that most of the onlookers were more focused on the fireworks through their cameras and mobile devices.

Putting the phone down, I was amazed with the vast difference between recording something and looking directly at the display; in fact, I was at a loss for words that I took a step back that time without a care for what the viewers nearby would say. I was secretly glad that my phone died that time because subsequent replays of whatever chunk of the show I recorded would never compare to what my two eyes saw that night

Not to phrase it like a rant but objectively speaking, people nowadays are so fixated with capturing everything with their devices that they don’t allot time and space to truly enjoy themselves and cherish the beauty of life in front of them. Now, me telling you to put down your phone and stop documenting is impractical because not only am I technically would be considered a hypocrite but such commands won’t realistically work in the long term. Personal change, after all, is very gradual and would require lots and lots of time, energy, and commitment. For a start, though, I’d recommend that you cut down on your phone usage and try to appreciate the world around you.

When you get used to pleasantly observing your surroundings, you’ll eventually realize that splurging and treating yourself with the present is way better than you regrettably looking back in the past as you mumble “I should’ve paid more attention to it when it was happening, I got a blurry shot!” in a distant future. The advent of technology may have made a thousand processes more convenient, but don’t let it consume you to the point where you dehumanize and/or take the moments ahead of you for granted.

⚡ What was life before modern technology? Check out our AP World History resources!

Questioning the Event’s Overall Significance

By the end of the event (which you can tell, by the way, through the increasing loudness and frequency of the pyrotechnics), everyone was cheering and clapping their hands. The conclusion itself is actually wholesome considering the crowd’s size and the happiness we all mutually shared. We’d all agree that the night of July 4th was one that was definitely worth the wait and preparations. Like everyone else, my family and I helped in breaking down the tents and skedaddled home to get a good night’s rest.

Leaving, however, was a challenge as it took a while with the traffic caused by the insane amount of cars trying to leave the area. Looking across the car window, I saw small groups of people with their gear walking presumably to their parking spots a couple of minutes away from the display vicinity. Seeing this also made me wonder (I know that at this point, the amount of thinking I do makes me sound like a sage from a video game or elsewhere) how people are willing to wait for hours and walk for a couple of blocks just to see a show that’ll last for just thirty minutes, more or less.

I unfortunately wasn’t able to find the actual answer to the aforementioned question. I had guesses, but I wouldn’t know if I was right or wrong unless I actually jumped out of the car and interrogate each and every attendee that was walking during that time. For now, I settled with this ambiguously satisfying answer: human beings like you and me are attracted by the prospect to witness something that only occurs once a year and are willing to make an effort for us and our loved ones to see its elegance. Why ambiguous, you say? Human nature is so complex that at the end of the day, we can all agree that each individual has different reasons for doing so.

I also realized something else: it was not the world itself that was flawed all this time; it was my mindset – the lenses I use to look at life and society – that was primarily responsible for making me think of such things. It was the one that made my 8 year-old self   view the world as a naive optimist who wants to play and mess around; my 13 year-old self may have seen it as a pessimist who never took hope in face value like the “emo” kid I was and today, it is up to my current mindset to figure out what my 16 year-old self will choose to perceive the world in front of him. With these reflections in mind as I write this, perhaps I’m thinking of discovering and learning more of the world as a curious and intrigued student who’s open to learning more about life in general and how things work). It may change and fluctuate throughout the year but in a general sense, I’m sticking to this mindset.

Man, never have I ever imagined that a Fourth of July celebration could be that thought-provoking in my lifetime! If you find festive holidays like Fourth of July dull and boring, try to explore local celebratory events near you and immerse yourself in them. Not only will you see amazing things that you typically ignore such as mini art exhibits, dance troupes, and even random acts of kindness between complete strangers but you will also get yourself genuine enjoyment and actual time off from work and whatever life brings your way. Personally, I wouldn’t mind going to another event like this at all if enduring the boredom and long waiting times will eventually give way to a much more worthwhile reward at the end!

Hey, hey! I am a rising junior from Vista, CA. As a current AP (and future IB) student, I couldn't help myself from falling in love with academics especially with mathematics, science, and literature. Other than working as a Director of Content and blogger for Fiveable, I manage my own lifestyle-slash-travel blog, take pictures, and collaborate with service-based clubs and organizations as a volunteer to make this world a better place for everyone!

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