GENESEO -- Overseas and essay opportunities made a Geneseo High School student feel like a lottery winner.
Rachel Ganson, 18, a senior, recently received a $400 prize from the Geneseo Rotary Club for an essay she wrote about the importance of the U.S. Constitution. Miss Ganson, daughter of Kyle and Shelly Ganson, was one of three essay prize winners.
Miss Ganson spent last summer in India to learn how she could help fight the battle against hunger, and used that trip as a basis for her ''Opportunity is Everything'' winning essay.
Her project in India caused her to witness some realities of life firsthand, and discover what she had always perceived as basic liberties aren't guaranteed -- liberties such as a right to an education and freedom of religion.
Miss Ganson's trip to India made her realize many of the liberties and privileges she is blessed with can be traced to the Constitution, and that's what she used to write her essay.
She recalled a comment she once heard about "If you were born in America, you've already won the Lottery."
"Of course the statement was referencing the relative wealth and affluence Americans often take for granted,'' she said. ''To me though, these words seemed to embody what I had tried, in vain, to explain to a countless number of people."
"In the United States of America, its citizens are born free," Miss Ganson wrote in her essay. "They do not have to earn it; they do not have to pay for it. This simple ideology is unfortunately taken for granted by many Americans. I should know ... I was one of them."
Miss Ganson said she developed a "much greater appreciation for the country I live in, especially the seemingly simple concept of a government created to serve me," she said. "I am grateful for the fact that I have the opportunity to go to school and pursue whatever profession I want, without bias or discrimination based on my gender.
"I knew I was blessed to be able to practice my faith without fear of punishment or hostility," Miss Ganson added. "I felt lucky to know I had enough food to eat and clothes to wear. Last year, I didn't know I should be so grateful, blessed, or lucky. Now I can't forget."
Miss Ganson was one of 21 high-school students in the nation chosen for a World Food Prize Borlaug-Ruan International Internship to delve into hunger and poverty-related issues.
She spent eight summer weeks at the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics in Hyderabad, India.
Interviewing women in the farming villages in India for her research project awakened her to the many blessings of being a U.S. citizen.
"Imagine this," she said, "the only person you can communicate with is the translator, whose English is sub-par," she said. "While sitting in a field, the woman you are talking with stands up and crosses the plot of ground to pick up her 10-month-old daughter out of the bushes. You didn't even see the child before, but now you can't look away as the mother returns to where you sit. She holds out the baby, and the translator stops his conversation to whisper to me, 'She wants you to take her to the U.S., far away from here.'
"I couldn't take the woman's baby with me, so I looked away instead, tears stinging my eyes," Miss Ganson said. "Even then, I knew that if this beautiful child came with me, she could have a life of justice, peace and prosperity -- a life she would otherwise never even know existed."
Being governed by the U.S. Constitution "means I have choices,: Miss Ganson wrote in her essay. "I have rights. I have freedom. It means I have opportunity."