Our first immigrants came to the shores of our great land with a dream in their hearts and the hope that their dream would come to fruition. All sought it, some found it, others found it different from what they had hoped for or dreamed. And some perhaps never realized it.

We are still dreamers -- or at least we should be. Without dreams, will we never become the people we are meant to be?

Without the courage of those who came before us, and who reached out for knowledge, for betterment, for the opportunity to work and advance, would we have become the nation the rest of the world looked to and envied? The heritage of our past gives us hope for our future but also the responsibility to continue to strive to attain the "American Dream."

What is this American Dream? In 1931, James Truslow Adams first used the phrase in his book, "The Epic of America." He characterized it as "that dream of a land in which life should be better and richer and fuller for everyone, with opportunity for each according to ability or achievement."

Do we all have the same American Dream? For generations it has been thought of as "freedom and equality" for all, a goal that requires continuous working toward the common good, putting aside issues of race, religion, or economic status.

Our founding fathers in the Declaration of Independence held that "certain truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness."

Nowhere do we read that the larger the home, the more "stuff" for pursuit of pleasure, nor the most expensive car constitutes fulfillment of the "American Dream." President Ronald Reagan on Oct. 22, 1986, said, "You can't put a price tag on the American Dream. That dream is the heart and soul of America; it's the promise that keeps our nation forever good and generous, a model and hope to the world."

How do you define the American Dream? Is it a myth and available for only a select few? Is it more material acquisitions, or is it what we decide to make it by seeking to live our life to the fullest? Dreams can fade or even die because of circumstances but even more by attitude. But we can keep them alive. What is truly important to us? What has the past taught us?

Thomas Wolfe wrote, "to every man, regardless of his birth, his shining, golden opportunity ... the right to live, to work, to be himself, and to become whatever thing his manhood and his vision can combine to make him."

Martin Luther King's voice rang out with these words at Ebenezer Baptist Church, Atlanta, Ga., on July 4, 1965:

"The clock of destiny is ticking out. We must act now before it is too late. And so it is marvelous and great that we do have a dream, that we have a nation with a dream; and to forever challenge us; to forever give us a sense of urgency; to forever stand in the midst of the "isness" of our terrible injustices; to remind us of the "oughtness" of our noble capacity for justice and love and brotherhood ...

"I would like to deal with some of the challenges that we face today in our nation as a result of the American dream. First, I want to reiterate the fact that we are challenged more than ever before to respect the dignity and the worth of all human personality. We are challenged to really believe that all men are created equal. And don't misunderstand that ... . What it does mean is that all men are equal in intrinsic worth ... You see, the founding fathers were really influenced by the Bible. The whole concept of the imago dei, as it is expressed in Latin, the 'image of God,' is the idea that all men have something within them that God injected ... And this gives him a uniqueness, it gives him worth, it gives him dignity. And we must never forget this as a nation: there are no gradations in the image of God ... I look forward confidently to the day when all who work for a living will be one with no thought to their separateness as Negroes, Jews, Italians or any other distinctions. This will be the day when we bring into full realization the American dream -- a dream yet unfulfilled. A dream of equality of opportunity, of privilege and property widely distributed; a dream of a land where men will not take necessities from the many to give luxuries to the few; a dream of a land where men will not argue that the color of a man's skin determines the content of his character; a dream of a nation where all our gifts and resources are held not for ourselves alone, but as instruments of service for the rest of humanity; the dream of a country where every man will respect the dignity and worth of the human personality."

The above is only a small part of Martin Luther King's speech. It is worth reading in its entirety, for it is as needed today as it was in 1965.

Dream on, America, for we still have far to go. With the help of God, we can make our American Dream become reality.

Ruth Moriarity, Hays, is a member of the Generations Advisory Group.