Four talented local writers were honored on Monday for essays they have written that celebrate American patriotism and freedom.
Members of Lee Marts Veterans of Foreign Wars Post and Auxiliary #3571 of Delta recognized the top middle school and high school essayists in the VFW's annual voice of Democracy and Patriot's Pen writing contest.
Post and Auxiliary officials reported there were 167 student entries in the contest this year and that judging winners from among all the high-quality entries was extremely difficult. Most of the student writers were in classes taught by Mrs. Charlesworth of Delta Middle School.
The entries were judged by a panel of retired educators and media professionals.
Winning first place in the high school-level Voice of Democracy contest was Brenna Rhiness, a junior. Brenna's sister, Carisa, a seventh grader, penned an essay that took first place in the middle school-level Patriot's Pen competition. They are daughters of Derek and Tammy Rhiness of Delta.
The essay taking second place in the Patriot's Pen contest judging was written by Aubree L. Andre, a seventh grader and daughter of Rodney and Toni Andre of Delta.
The third-place essay award went to a composition by DMS seventh grader Kaitlyn Grace Branson, daughter of Michael and Alissa Branson of Delta.
As part of the VFW's Christmas banquet held at the Odd Fellows Hall, the winning essays were read by their authors. The compositions displayed clear-sighted understanding and commitment to the values that have guided America in its exceptional journey to world power.
Kaitlyn Branson's essay emphasized that freedom is guaranteed by the rights in the U.S. Constitution. The Constitution was given to the citizens for freedom, she said. The 2nd Amendment right of freedom to bear arms is a demonstration of the freedom that responsible citizens have. The same is true for the 1st Amendment. Other countries don't have or understand the freedoms that Americans have. "To me, freedom is the best gift ever given," she concluded.
Aubree Andre's essay emphasized the "right to bear arms and to speak my own mind." She saluted her family members for the service to freedom, including her grandfather who is a Vietnam veteran. Freedom has given Americans the right to be themselves as a nation. The true purpose of freedom is to let the people of the United States have liberty, she said.
In her essay, Carisa Rhiness took note of the "bloody battles" that have been fought to secure the freedoms that Americans have today. "The freedom of speech and of religion are the two most important freedoms in my life," she said. They give individuals the right to disagree with the government. "We are able to speak our own opinion and express ourselves." Expressing oneself in words helps one be a unique person. The freedom of speech and of religion "are put into action every day by how we live and who we are," she said.
Brenna Rhiness noted in her essay that America needs a strong leader in foreign relations and one that can bring Democrats and Republicans together. "It is time to be all in for the people," she said. "Our leader needs to care about the people and not ignore their opinions." One current challenge that will have to be overcome is the practice of "pawning off problems onto the next generation," she said.
Each of the winning essays earned a cash stipend. They have been forwarded for district-level judging.