Photo above: L-R: Shannon Kelly, Highland School, 3rd place VOD; Andrea Riedel, Fauquier HS, 2nd place VOD; Elanor Lambert, Fresta Valley Christian School, 1st place, VOD and 3rd place District 8; Post Commander Jeff Dombroff; Arden Manson, Wakefield School, 1st place PP and 1st place District 8; Heather Wilson, Auburn MS, 2nd place PP and 2nd place District 8; Jessica Amster, Wakefield School, 3rd place PP.
For more than 70 years, the Veterans of Foreign Wars of the United States (VFW) has been conducting annual student essay contests open to middle and high School students (including home-schooled students) throughout the nation. Known as “Patriot’s Pen” and “Voice of Democracy,” these contests are conducted in the early fall of each year, with winning essays advancing through various levels to potentially earn national recognition and monetary awards for their authors.
The “Voice of Democracy” competition, open to students in 9th through 12th grades, requires the student to submit a recorded essay on a patriotic topic chosen by the VFW’s National Commander. Essays must be between three and five minutes in length and are judged on originality, content, and delivery. This year’s theme was “Why My Vote Matters.”
“Patriot’s Pen” is open to students from 6th through 8th grades. These essays are submitted in writing and must be between 300 and 400 words. They are judged on knowledge of the theme, theme development, and clarity of ideas. This year’s topic was “Why I Honor the American Flag.”
In 2018, students from four county high schools (Highland School, Fauquier High School, Kettle Run High School, and Fresta Valley Christian School) along with one student from Eastern View High School in Culpeper submitted “Voice of Democracy” entries to the Warrenton-based Robert E. Laing Memorial VFW Post 9835. The Post received “Patriot’s Pen” entries from Middle School students at Auburn Middle School, Cedar Lee Middle School, SE Alternative School, Wakefield School, Warrenton Middle School, Highland School, and W. C. Taylor Middle School.
The Post’s top three entries in “Patriot’s Pen” and the winner of “Voice of Democracy” were forwarded to the 8th District for further judging. There, Fauquier County students more than held their own against some formidable entries. Elanor Lambert (12th grade, Fresta Valley Christian School) earned District third place honors for her entry in “Voice of Democracy.” Heather Wilson (8th grade, Auburn Middle School) took second place with her “Patriot’s Pen” entry while Arden Manson, a 6th grade student at The Wakefield School, took first place and advanced to state level competition. There, against the top entries from throughout the Commonwealth of Virginia, Arden’s essay was selected as the best in the State.
The topics for 2019 will be announced in mid-summer and we encourage students to participate.
Voice of Democracy
Why My Vote Matters
By Elanor Lambert, Fresta Valley Christian School
During the 2016 election, I was glad to be too young to vote. It seemed like no matter how a person voted, they were doing the wrong thing, dooming America as we know it. I had no idea how my parents were going to vote, but I knew that they were dreading it. After the election, I learned that they had both voted third party. At first I was confused, and then I was upset. I thought that by voting third party, they were throwing away their vote. I thought that because a third party could never win, they were just giving one more vote to a larger candidate. I thought that their vote didn’t matter.
As a nation, how can we stand by while morality is compromised for the sake of defeating another party? This cannot be the purpose of voting. If a person is willing to compromise their beliefs for the sake of the system, then they are working against justice. They are silencing their own beliefs for the sake of their faction. The results of an election are no longer what the people desire, but what the other party does not desire. This mentality is twisted and wrong. James Madison, one of America’s founding fathers, saw this becoming an issue in a popular government. He wrote, “A zeal for different opinions…have, in turn, divided mankind into parties, inflamed them with mutual animosity, and rendered them much more disposed to vex and oppress each other than to cooperate for their common good.” (Madison, 4) For so many people in America, the purpose of their vote is to defeat the other side. I believe that the meaning of my vote is for the common good.
When the system seems so rigged towards either Republicans or Democrats and no one else, voting third party can feel like yelling your opinion into the void. Seeing the factions of voters fighting against each other, voting only to tear the other side down, and resorting to violence in some cases, proves that voting for the sake of conscience is difficult, but necessary.
I believe that justice and freedom are the most important values of our nation. If I don’t vote with those values in mind, then my vote is meaningless. For my vote to matter, I must stand up for myself, and vote to protect those values. Even if it means voting for a candidate that no one believes will win, I cannot, under any circumstance, compromise my beliefs. Protecting the values of our nation, and following through with my civic duty, means voting with integrity. Even if the people around me seem to be shouting me down and shutting me up, I cannot sacrifice that integrity. I wasn’t blessed with the ability to vote so that I could use it to tear down my fellow Americans. My ability to vote should be used to build up this nation for the common good and protect the unalienable rights of every single American citizen- no matter their political party.
I don’t want my children to grow up in a word where they must choose a side. I want them to live with the confidence that they can stand up for their beliefs, even if it means voting in a way that seems futile to others. I want them to know that their voice matters. I can’t do that without leading by example. Next year, I will be able to vote. I hope that I will be informed as to who I am voting for, and make my decision based on the American values of freedom and justice. If I do not follow through with my beliefs, then my vote was meaningless.
Looking back to the 2016 election, I realize that my parents’ votes were not for nothing. I realize that they were standing up for their beliefs, even if it led to opposition from every side. They wanted to change this country for the better, so they spoke their mind at the polls. If I ever want to see the end of the downward spiral of political factions, I must do the same. I must stand up, even if it means going against the system. My vote matters, because with it, I can build up this nation, and influence others to do the same. My vote matters, because I matter, and because this nation matters.
Why I Honor the American Flag
Arden Manson, The Wakefield School
I honor the American flag because it helped me find my true potential. You don’t have to be born in the U.S. to love the flag. You don’t have to look American or have an American background. You have to treat others equally and be treated equally. It matters that you stay truthful to yourself through any battle in your life. At Ft. McHenry, the flag stood through the War of 1812, clinging to the little piece of hope that lingered on through all the bloodshed and tears. I, too, have stood true to myself through conflict and tears. On February 5, 2008, I was adopted from a country many American soldiers gave their lives to protect. I officially became a US citizen, but I didn’t always feel like one. When I first started school, I felt uncomfortable saying the Pledge of Allegiance, staring up at the flag, because kids always asked me questions about my parents, my adoption, and where I was from. It was as though they thought I was an alien. As I got older, I started caring less and less about what other kids thought. I kept saying to myself, “Let them look, let them think what they want, but this country is where I know who I am.” After that realization, I carried on through each day no matter what words or questions were thrown at me. The flag made me feel included, not unworthy. Now, I take pride in my American ancestry. My great-great-great grandfather fought at the Battles of Concord and Bunker Hill. The Stars and Stripes were there with him, the thirteen stripes symbolizing the original colonies, including my family’s own ancestral state of Massachusetts. The red on the flag symbolizes valor, the courage of those who fought there, and my own courage in asserting myself here, too. The white stripes on the flag symbolize the purity of the motives for which my ancestors fought, and it also symbolizes the original goodness of every American citizen. The blue on the flag symbolizes the justice of their cause and their perseverance in fighting for it, and it also symbolizes my own perseverance to serve my country in the best possible way I can.
About the Author
Jeff Dombroff is the Commander of VFW Post 9835. He is an Army veteran of Vietnam and retired in 2006 from the Navy Federal Credit Union. He has resided in Fauquier County since 1990 with his wife Susan. They have two children and four grandchildren.