America’s gift is our hope: Craig County youth participate in annual essay contest

Billy Lee, Local VFW Post #4491 Commander, awards first and second place contestants – Abigayle Prince and Alexander Price – on the Patriots Pen essay contest.

Pam Dudding-Burch
Contributing writer

The saying, “Honor to Country” still lives strong in our youth throughout America. This past year, over 172,000 students entered essay writing contests about their individual opinions on topics provided by the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW).

The National VFW is dedicated to promoting patriotism and investing in the future generation of America. “If you are a democracy-loving high school student interested in a $30,000 college scholarship or a patriotic middle school student interested in winning $5,000, these scholarships may be for you,” their website states.

National awards will total $54,500. However, $2.1 million in educational scholarships and incentives will be awarded through the program throughout the USA.

Annually, they have two contests – The Voice of Democracy for grades 9-12 and Patriot’s Pen for sixth through eighth-grade students. Billy Lee, Commander of Local VFW Post #4491, explained that all entries begin at Post level within the individual counties. First place winners are then submitted to the VFW Department state level before another process sends the state winner to nationals.

Established in 1947, The Voice of Democracy audio-essay program provides high school students with the opportunity to express themselves in regards to a democratic and patriotic-themed recorded essay. Whereas, The Patriot’s Pen is an essay contest, “intended to encourage younger students to examine America’s history, along with their own experiences in modern American society.”

State winners from each VFW Department win a minimum scholarship of $1,000 and an all-expense-paid trip to Washington, D.C. where they will compete on the national level.

As a CCPS Middle School class assignment, teacher Susan Stimeling asked her students to write a paper on the VFW theme for Patriot’s Pen, “America’s Gift to My Generation.”

“All the students wrote essays that supported patriotism and Veteran’s affairs. I am proud of their maturity and thoughtfulness,” Stimeling shared. “I also appreciate the partnership this facilitates between the students and the VFW. I thank them for their service and intent to share that with the youth of Craig County.”

Eighth-grader Alexander McDowell won first place. “I appreciate the award and wrote my essay reply because I believe that Veterans are important and should be honored,” he said.

McDowell believes that there are many gifts that America and its founders have given him, his generation as well as future generations. “Among them are safety, choice, rights, education and opportunity,” he said before adding, “In America, our rights and freedoms are very dear to us. How would you feel if all of the rights and freedoms that make you the person that you are, were suddenly stripped away?”

McDowell concluded the essay by saying, “Education is very important to me. Free public school is a gift that many of us students do not appreciate. We are exceptionally lucky to be able to get an education. Too many children in other poorer countries do not have the chance. There are many gifts America has given us, and we can use them to make a difference for all the people of the world.”

Eighth-grader Abigayle Price, who came in second place, said she wrote what she believed to be true and relevant to the prompt.

”America is like a sprawling, magnificent work of art. Without one piece, even a single brushstroke, it wouldn’t be as marvelous as it is now,” it read. “Americans have fought long and hard so that our generation can keep adding to the canvas.”

She added, “Free will is our greatest blessing of all. It doesn’t matter where you were born, or what color your skin is; you can choose how you want to live. We have been undeservingly given a whole world of possibilities. Our generation is very fortunate. We have rights of which others only dream of. It is up to us to work with these gifts, to build and develop our rich and diverse culture and to add to the canvas.”

Ninth grader Gavin Shires stated, “I have a high interest in government, and I like being able to express my opinions on democracy. I believe the VFW is a great organization for what they have done, and are doing in service to our nation. Everyone affiliated should feel a sense of pride.”

This is what Shires wrote: “Over the course of human history, no system of government that has been installed is greater than democracy. It is the only system that allows its citizens the right to vote for leaders and legislation, cherishes individuality and gives its people civil liberties. Lastly, the celebration of individuality is a key feature of democracy. If one wishes to become anything from a farmer to a politician, it is certainly possible and encouraged. Because of this strength and freedom, I am truly honored and privileged to talk about the glorious system that is democracy.”

Lee presented the first place winners with a $75 check and the second place participants with a $50 check. Each of the students received a certificate.

Paul Moore was the VFW Commander for many years and a true advocate of the program in the school. Unfortunately, he passed away in 2016. In his history comments, he shared, “It’s more than a writing competition, it’s an opportunity for the youth of today to express their viewpoints and take part of what America is right now. Each year we hope that more students participate.”