The War on Terror continues to be the major focus of many as 2016 dawns today. As Obama’s administration begins their final year at the helm of the most influential nation on earth, the eyes of the world remain fixed on the U.S. election and who will be steering America’s military and foreign policy for the next four years. However, regardless of the ultimate decision, new leadership is still a year away and the current occupant of the people’s White House must make real decisions impacting the security of this country.

With that said, America’s destiny for the next four years and potentially that of the entire free world rests in the hands of each one of us. Viewed in such terms, it is truly an enormous responsibility that requires an equal or greater consideration. As each of us rings in 2016, we must reflect on the fact that voting is not only a right, but a solemn duty we call a privilege of citizenship. This privilege is secured through the sacrifices of so many; it’s a right that was purchased with the blood of countless men and women through the ages.

This country we enjoy, the freedoms taken for granted, are a culmination of thousands of years of human evolution and civilization. From the dawn of man in the savannahs of Africa and Mesopotamia, through the ancient empires of Egypt, Babylon, and Persia, to Greece and the Roman republic whose footsteps guided our founding fathers, through each age of human history, the groundwork of this nation took shape. From the Magna Carta and the founding of the English parliament to the Mayflower Compact, our ancestors framed the beginnings of man’s inalienable rights to freedom while fixing the limits of power for those that governed. These forward steps toward universal freedom came at great cost in lives through wars that circled the globe hundreds of years before WWI and WWII.

This country, our United States of America, sits on a foundation of blood and carnage, injustice and loss, in addition to freedom, faith, and innovation. The enlightenment to which we aspire was born of different creeds, colors, and religions, from the depths of slave ships and the genocide of native peoples. America and the greatness we long to know in this world was birthed from places of nostalgia and in the dark corners we can hardly fathom and would rather forget. These sins and virtues, each a stone in the building of this country, must be remembered and reflected upon by each generation to better understand the gravity of being a U.S. citizen, the costs that created the rights you enjoy, and the vote each of us has been entrusted with. Viewed through these terms, how could one even think of their vote as meaningless?