The Gulf Coast Italian Culture Society (GCICS), in 2011, instituted the practice of having the Scholarship Committee select the best in class of the Essays submitted by the candidates in support of their scholarship application, for publication in the GCICS Scholarship Gala Program.
In the interest of sharing the talent of our scholarship recipients it was determined that the selected essay should also be posted on the website of the Society.
2015 Selected Essay
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2014 Selected Essay
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2013 Selected Essay
Recipient Zachary D. Zofrea, a graduating senior of Bayshore H.S., who has been accepted and plans to attend The University of Florida, submitted the following essay.
An Essay by Zachary D. Zofrea
Imagine, if you will, that your local gazette, shortly after the American Declaration of Independence was issued, published the following want-ad.
Colonial America seeks an entrepreneur willing to help finance our War of Independence. Must be able to work undercover collecting sensitive information; must be of Italian heritage, and must not expect reimbursement, while alive, for any personal and financial contribution. If interested, contact Gen. George Rogers Clark
You might be surprised to learn that the position was filled by Italian born Giuseppe Maria Francesco Vigo.
At 25 years old, Vigo’s entrepreneurial skills were evident as he established a successful fur trading business, and then re-establishing it in Vincennes, in today’s Indiana. As a supporter of America’s fight for independence, he was captured and eventually released by the British. As a keen observer, he provided detailed information on the British occupation of Fort Vincennes, as well as personal funding for the troops and supplies, thereby enabling Clark to recapture the fort from the British in 1779.
Vigo’s financial contribution to the effort totaled approximately $8,000. In today’s dollars, that would be approximately $104,000 – quite a sum from an individual who was not even an American citizen at the time!
While many Italians shared America’s dream for independence, and risked their lives supporting the cause (for example, the 1,500 men who fought in three Italian regiments) none of these heroes were discussed in any of my history classes. . . ever. To fully appreciate the significance of Vigo’s personal sacrifice and assistance to our nation’s history, it should be noted that, what is now Ohio, Indiana, Illinois and Michigan, might have become part of Canada if General George Rogers Clark had not been able to re-capture Fort Vincennes. Clearly, without Vigo’s personal loans and the information he provided about the fort’s supplies and garrison, taking Ft. Vincennes back from the British would not have been possible.
To recognize his contribution, Indiana established Vigo County in 1818. Although Vigo was then in his 80’s and experiencing great financial strain, he refused to demand repayment from Congress. In fact, in 1834 he revised his will bequeathing $500 for a large bell to be purchased for the Vigo County Courthouse. Finally, approximately 40 years after his death Congress settled with his estate agreeing to repay him $8,016 plus over $40,000 in interest. However, having no blood descendants, the government only had to pay for the expenses outlined in his revised will, which included the bell for the courthouse.
I am proud to share my heritage with Francesco Vigo, who is believed to be the first Italian to become an American citizen. Although born in Italy, Francesco Vigo was obviously an American patriot through and through. . .as I am!
2012 Selected Essay
Recipient Alexandra (Lexi) Loccisano, a graduate of Venice H.S., who now attends the University of Central Florida, submitted the following essay in 2012.
An Essay by Alexandra Loccisano
Cesare Beccaria. Does that name ring a bell? I am embarrassed to say that it did not for me when I saw this essay topic. Nevertheless, as I curiously researched his life and writings, I wondered about this man; who was he, what made him so important, and why in the world am I writing 500 words about him? As I gained more knowledge on his background, involvement with Italian culture, friends, experiences, writings, and interests, I began to understand the reasons for the essay (both his and mine), and the reason for our nation’s constitution, Bill of Rights, and criminal justice system. This man “The Great Cesare Beccaria”, made an enormous contribution and a lasting impact on what is now the basis of our nation – how we function in society.
After extensive research, I realized his valor, being born in 1738 into an aristocratic family and marrying someone against his parents’ wishes, and his determination to change the criminal justice system of his times, through the ‘academy of fists’ which he and his friends Pietro and Alessandro Verri formed. The academy was intended to wage war against economic disorder, bureaucratic petty tyranny, religious narrow-mindedness, and intellectual pedantry. He was a rebel of his time, defying the norm.
Through the publishing of his most noted essay, On Crime and Punishment, he influenced the governments of many countries. His paper was publicly praised by Katherine the Great of Russia, Maria Theresa of Austria-Hungary, and quoted by Voltaire, Thomas Jefferson and John Adams, among others. However, he did not endeavor to emulate the intellectuals of his day, thereby insuring his uniqueness.
Beccaria’s essay was premised on the principle that all individuals posses freewill, rational manner and manipulability. He felt that criminal laws and punishments needed reform. He offered a blueprint to create an enlightened system through rational thought, rather than passions, designed to provide the “greatest happiness shared by the greatest number” so as to benefit the entire community. He noted particular principles by which a just government would be guided to maintain security, through such functions as arrests, court hearings, detention, prison, and the death penalty. He discussed particular crimes as well as crime prevention. He emphasized the separation of roles between and among the legislators, judges, prosecutors, criminals/offenders, the general public/jurors and government and stressed the necessity that laws be clear and unambiguous, reasoning that people, in general do not violate laws that are known and understood, thus decreasing crime.
In conclusion, Beccaria’s essay had a direct impact on the formation of the structure of the criminal justice system in the United States, which occurred a few years after the publication of the his essay. Our Constitution and Bill of Rights, particularly the II, V, VI & VIII Amendments, contain fundamentals from the works of classical criminology. Some of our rights, such as our right to a speedy and public trial, the right to cross-examine witnesses, the right to confront one’s accuser; the right to be judged by one’s peers, the right to be free of cruel and unusual punishment, and the right to bear arms, as well as others, would likely not exist if Beccaria had not written about them. Beccaria strongly influenced the foundation of our nation – an enlightened Italian intellectual, who would have thought? I am proud to be able to relate to Beccaria in many ways, and now I wonder, how I did not already know of Cesare Beccaria?
2011 Selected Essay
Recipient Francesca Tebbano, a graduate of North Port H.S., who now attends Miami University, in Miami Florida, submitted the following essay in 2011.
An Essay by Francesca Tebano
When I researched Filippo Mazzei, he appealed to me because he was a physician, and I plan to become a physician. However, I was completely unaware of his behind-the-scenes role in America’s history. Were it not for this essay, I probably would never have known of Filippo Mazzei at all. If learned historians refer to him as an “Assisting Founding Father” and the Godfather of The Declaration of Independence,” why isn’t he in any of my school’s social studies books?
I was amazed to learn how many patriots he befriended: George Washington (who wrote thanking him for his expertise in establishing vineyards), James Monroe, Thomas Pain, Patrick Henry, Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, and his next-door neighbor, Thomas Jefferson with whom he had a 40-year friendship. Equally amazing was learning that many of their accomplishments stemmed from Mazzei’s actions or writings. Jefferson’s writing in The Declaration of Independence in 1776 that “All men are created equal” clearly reflects what Mazzei wrote in 1774 in the Virginia Gazette, “Tutti gli uomini sono per natura eugualmente liberi e indipendenti. Quest’euguaglianza e` necessaria per costituire un governo libero. Bisogna che ognuno sia uguale all’altro nel diritto naturale.” Jefferson, who was fluent in Italian, had translated this for Mazzei as, “All men are by nature equally free and independent. Such equality is necessary in order to create a free government. All men must be equal to each other in natural law.”
A year before Thomas Paine wrote Common Sense, a 1776 pamphlet encouraging colonists to fight for independence from Britain, Mazzei, using the penname “Furioso,” published articles advocating liberty for his adopted country. He referred to the colonies as his “adopted fatherland.”
When Patrick Henry heard that Mazzei had enlisted in the army he persuaded him instead to use his intelligence and influence in Europe to garner support for the cause. Mazzei wrote letters to his influential friends in France, obtained naval support from the Netherlands and Spain, and solicited money from other European friends. Writing to Patrick Henry, John Adams said, “Mr. Mazzei has uniformly discovered in Europe an attachment and zeal for the American Honor and Interest, which would have become any native of our country.” Interestingly Mazzei’s daughter eventually married Adam’s nephew.
Throughout the rest of his life Mazzei worked to clarify the distorted views of his beloved America, publishing in 1788, in Paris The History and Politics of the United States, a four volume compendium still considered an accurate account of the U.S. revolutionary times. He spent his last years in Pisa, where he was known simply as Pippo l’ortolano, Phil the gardener.
There have been many efforts in the U.S. to acknowledge Mazzei’s contributions to its development as a nation: Franklin D. Roosevelt and John F. Kennedy reminded Americans of his contribution to Jefferson’s draft of The Declaration of Independence, and this was recognized, officially, by the 103rd Congress in Joint Resolution 175.
In 1980 The U.S. issued a stamp commemorating the 250th anniversary of Filippo Mazzei’s birth, calling him a “Patriot Remembered”. While my history books have forgotten him, I will always remember this founding father and, recalling his contributions, take more pride in my Italian heritage.