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ISSN: 1936-0479

2015-2016 Rural Voices Youth Contest - First Place Entry

About the Contest: The Rural Voices Contest is sponsored by the North Central Regional Planning Commission (NCRPC), Beloit, Kansas. Each year high school seniors in North Central Kansas are invited to prepare an original work based on an assigned theme. The theme for the 2015-2016 contest was “Rural Kansas...My Legacy.”

Rural Kansas...My Legacy
By Gehrig Geissinger
Abilene High School

My rural Kansas legacy began not in the Salina hospital I was born in, but at Tiffany and Company in New Jersey where my parents met. Both brought up in New Jersey, they got married and were shipped out to Fort Riley because my dad was in the Army at the time. Injured and Honorably Discharged from post, my parents sought out the friendly town of Abilene to raise their child. Spawning from deep farm roots and an age-old cattle tradition, Abilene was the premiere of rural Kansas towns to grow up in.

I was raised by two city dwelling parents from the east coast and grew up surrounded by a rural Kansas community. A classic case of City mouse stuck in the country. This did not stop me, however. I learned from my community and they learned from me. Who is this kid that say "soda" instead of "pop?" This kid that doesn't have a pair of cowboy boots to his name? Well, I'll tell you.

The rural Kansas legacy that surrounds me has slowly worked its way into my body and the way I interact with the world as a whole. Just as the fluoride in the tap water strengthens my teeth when I drink it, the attitudes and traits I have received from the Legacy around me have strengthened my interpersonal self. From my rural Kansas legacy, I have received a sense of restlessness. Not the restlessness where one cannot sleep, although that is true when the trains that built this town roll through and announce their arrival at ungodly hours of the night. It was instead a sense of restlessness that made me not want to live in a stagnant world. Just as farmers must rotate their crops to keep the field healthy, I wanted to introduce new ideas to my community to keep the town fresh and heathy. My upbringing in a rural environment gave that drive to me. Something I have not noticed until recently that also is an inherent sign of my rural upbringing is the essence of grit. Webster's dictionary describes grit as "strength of character," meaning when times are tough, one's strongest true traits are revealed and become apparent. In rural Kansas, growing up an Abilene Cowboy gives one the ultimate sense of true grit. The rural Kansas grit I have received makes me charge towards challenges, face adversity confidently, stay true to myself, and never give up on a challenge. Having recently bought my first pair of cowboy boots as a senior in high school, I can finally say with justification that when Life knocks me down, I can pull myself up by my boot straps and get back on the metaphorical horse to attack
the challenge once again. As an 18-year-old Kansas cowboy, a restless grit settles over me as I take the reins towards my next trail of life.

The legacy I hope to leave behind for my cowboys-to-be is one of initiative and integrity. The initiative comes first from recognizing a problem and not simply acknowledging its existence, but by noting its gravity and actively pursuing a way to fix it that both involves the community and pushes towards the solution. I want the Cowboys of tomorrow to recognize problems in their community, and to metaphorically or literally get on the horse and solve them.
They have grown up in a community that reinforces the fact that we all have power and we all have a voice. In a rural tight-knit community, one person can be the change they wish to see. One person can make a difference, but as all true Kansan cowboys will tell you, a cowboy never rides alone. With that in mind, if someone steps up with a proactive solution to a problem, others will
reach out to them to help or guide them along their path to a new tomorrow. In a rural cowtown, those people do not have to reach far to help them along. The last piece I wish to pass on is integrity. When the world knocks you out of the saddle and no one is around to see it, I want to pass on a tradition of getting back on that saddle. The strong moral ground that comes from
integrity gives all these restless Cowboys a starting line in their search for a change and as they begin life's greatest challenges. It is only fitting that one cannot spell integrity without grit. When the going is tough, they will not lose who they morally are or give up their moral grounds. They will press forth and stay staunch in their character. This is my legacy I hope to leave for these
future cowboys.

Anything is easier said than done, and with the legacy that I personally wish to leave behind in my community and rural Kansas as a whole, if I have not already started forming that legacy, than I am far behind. But I have. In my community, I saw the need for more active transportation to ease the stress of construction-restricted parking space and for a healthier, safer community. I partnered with the school, the community, and the Quality of Life Coalition and
put the "Cowboys on Steel Horses" biking campaign into action. Behind the handlebars of this mission, I had a bike rack installed at the high school and am in the process of getting self repair stations and new bike racks in all over town. Since "Cowboys on Steel Horses" took off, there has been a nine-fold increase of bikers to the school and an equal increase of active transporters
all over the community. I stand as an impactful member of the community, but I stand within the personality of a high school student. The community sees a young person who wants to change their community for the better, and that view transfers down to my fellow students. I started a club at the high school that serves as a student reference and student climate group for the
students. As the L.O.N.E. Rangers(Leading Others, Never Excluding), we stand to combat low student morale and ensure that no student is lost in the shuffle of the hallways. I hope to pass on the belief that even a young person can dynamically change their community for the better and that one should never shy away from a challenge because they believe they are too young or that
they will not be able to accomplish such a feat. Lastly, I promote all of my causes as the downhome Catholic kid that grew up down the street from the train tracks. I do not promote myself as something I am not, but rather put on display the person I have become with the help of this town and the people in it that helped raise me. The old saying says that it takes a village to raise a
child, but I believe that it takes a cow town.

As a rural Kansan, I have been changed, motivated, and crafted by the legacies before me, and I hope that I can help do the same for the generation of Kansans that will follow in my boot tracks. I hope to pass on to tomorrow's Kansans the sense of grit and determination for change that I have inherited from my upbringing. I will also strive to ensure that even though I pass it on, I will not lose any of the essence of it within myself. Though I may have been raised as a soda-drinkin' city slicker, rural Kansas has imbedded in me the spirit of a rootin,' tootin,' boot-scootin,' gritty cowboy. Yee-haw, partner!

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Last Updated February 22, 2016
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