▶ 삼일 운동 백주년 기념 경운 장학회 주최 제9회 영어 웅변대회 수상작- 2nd Place Winner
2019 marks the centenary of the March First Movement, a vital and meaningful memory for the Korean people. The culmination of events that led to Korea’s independence shows humanity’s common desire for freedom and proves that today’s youth is not just the future but very much a capable part of the present. After the Japanese annexation of Korea on August 29, 1910 and the death of Emperor Gojong, thousands of protests involving over two million citizens erupted across Korea (“Kojong” 1). Seven thousand people were killed, forty-five thousand were wounded, and nearly fifty thousand were arrested (“March First Movement” 1).
Despite these harsh and cruel conditions, the Korean people persevered. And among those who stood up was a sixteen-year-old student, just like I am now, named Yu Gwansun (Kang 1). While attending school in Seoul, Yu Gwansun joined the protests and bravely held up signs that read, “대한 독립 만세” (Long Live Korean Independence!). After the Japanese shut down the protests in Seoul, Yu Gwansun returned to her home in Cheonan (Kang 3). She did not give up; she held onto her dream of liberty for her country and her people. With three thousand likeminded freedom-seekers, mainly students, Yu Gwansun made Korean flags and took to the streets (“Koreans Protest Japanese Control in the ‘March 1st Movement’" 1). The Japanese police opened fire, and Yu Gwansun witnessed the deaths of her parents right before her eyes. Still a minor, she was arrested and offered release in return for information on other protesters (Kang 2, 4). However, she remained loyal and refused the offer. She knew what she was fighting for; she knew what she believed in. Instead, on March 1, 1920, Yu Gwansun organized a mass demonstration with other inmates, with the same saying: “대한 독립 만세.” Punished for her actions, she was put into solitary confinement in an underground prison cell, sentenced indefinitely (Kang 2). On September 28, 1920, Yu Gwansun died at the age of seventeen from the brutal torture she endured (“March First Movement” 2).
But we must ask ourselves this: why did she die? Yu Gwansun died in search of freedom, in search of a greater life, in search of a better tomorrow for herself and the Korean people. Humanity consists of different individuals, with different backgrounds, cultures, and beliefs. But one common aspect is the desire for freedom, liberty, and independence. Yu Gwansun died hoping, yearning, and fighting for such freedom. Just a young girl, she did not know what her future had in stall for her, but she knew she had a right to build her own destiny in an independent nation. Yu Gwansun remains to this day a beacon of inspiration and a soul to guide today’s youth into the future. Korea is a nation with a troubled past and a tumultuous present, but if one student could accomplish so much, imagine what all the students of today can do if they work together.
Countless battles have been fought, countless lives have suffered, and countless souls live on in hope for this one state of being: freedom. During the American Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s, students in Little Rock, Arkansas fought like Yu Gwansun for this state of being (“Youth in the Civil Rights Movement…Library of Congress” 2). Now, we can use that freedom to make our own changes through peaceful movements. Currently, I teach at a school that educates children in the Korean language. There, I strive to instill within my students not only academic knowledge but also lessons of morality and strength. We need to use the knowledge that we gain to fight for what we believe in. After all, what good are bright ideas and goals if they are not pursued? We must follow in the footsteps of Yu Gwansun, who’s perseverance and tenacity led her and her people down the path toward Korean independence. Destiny is fluid. Only we are the authors of our lives. Because of people like her, we are now free to make our own decisions. We, students and all others, have a voice. Why not use it?
My own family emigrated from Ukraine over twenty-five years ago in search of this very same idea, freedom. My family members were persecuted for their cultural history, barred from working, stripped of their rights, and removed from their home. Why? Because this world is still home to humans who fail to differentiate between right and wrong. My family was not able to change their lives and remain in their country, but they were able to escape and provide my siblings and myself with the beautiful reality of freedom. I hope and truly believe that with enough brave and driven people, students and youths included, we can emulate what Yu Gwansun did during the First March Movement and create a better future for ourselves and our posterity.
<Maxim Melnichuk 11th Grade Northern Valley Regional HS