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True greatness is not something you are born into, it is something you choose. We all have the potential for greatness, and our country needs us. The young are once again rising to lead.

CONTRIBUTED - Gathering before the president's State of the Union speech are, from left, Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn; Rep. Lucy McBath, D-Ga.; Goddard; and Rep. Bonamici.

On Feb. 5, 2019, thanks to Rep. Suzanne Bonamici, I got to do something most people will not do in a lifetime: I attended President Trump's State of the Union address.

I met well-known leaders during my trip. I met several congresswomen and men, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, and Parkland survivor and activist Cameron Kasky.

Today, Feb. 14, marks the one-year anniversary of the Parkland, Florida, shootings.

I also met Jeff and Margot Binkley, guests of Rep. Lucy McBath of Georgia, who had lost their only child to gun violence. They had come to Washington, D.C., to turn their pain into action and I stood with them, one activist with another. Me, a recent high school graduate, barely younger than their child had been. I listened to their story and it hit me hard to sit with them in their grief.

I carried the pain of their loss with me for the rest of the day, through meetings and interviews. I couldn't comprehend how the government had let so many Americans down. The parents who had lost children, the men and women who had lost childhoods. How was the government letting this happen?

By the time I got to the State of the Union, I was emotionally exhausted. Despite the feeling of disappointment I had for the government, I went in with an open mind, hopeful I would hear a speech that spoke to progress, but found the president to be divisive, inflammatory and antiquated.

If you are ever in need of guidance, go to the Lincoln Memorial. I was in need of such guidance that night, after the Capitol had cleared out. I was looking for someone to tell me how I could help.

There is no way to convey the depth of the emotional power the Lincoln Memorial holds. It is silent at night, open to the cold air, and truly magnificent. I was nearly alone and it felt like the temple it is, with columns reaching to the sky, it is magical.

There is a presence in that room, a presence that washes over you. There is no religion there, but if feels like a spiritual awakening, as if Abraham Lincoln is really there with you. It is somber in every sense of the word.

I cried, thinking of the moral obligation we have to our country and our fellow Americans. To me, Lincoln's figure is poised to rise up and step into the country again, but the words around him begged me to stand up myself. To take the baton from that great man.

To the right of Lincoln's statue, there is an inscription of his Gettysburg Address. "Now we are engaged in a great civil war," holds true today, as I had seen just a few hours before. There is a great war indeed, a war between old ideas and new.

A banner hangs in the Belmont-Paul house in D.C., where the women's movement was based. It's a banner that reads, "The young are at the gates." A subtle jab at old ideas about what a woman could and couldn't do. The young people knew differently than the older men in power. They changed the country for the better. They didn't let future generations down.

I have been told I am too young to make choices and hold opinions. That I am being manipulated. I am neither too young, nor being manipulated. Let's not forget that George Washington was only 21 when he became a commander. Lincoln was 25 when he was first elected to the state House. Alice Paul was 28 when she established the National Women's Party.

True greatness is not something you are born into, it is something you choose. We all have the potential for greatness, and our country needs us. The young are once again rising to lead.

It's time to open the gates.

Alexandria Goddard is a recent Sunset High School graduate and a student at Portland State University.

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