I would like to make a special shout-out to an organization I have come to learn so much about and admire during the last few months. That organization is the Veterans of Foreign Wars. The VFW has thousands of chapters around the country and counts more than a million veterans in its membership. It also does youth outreach, with essay contests and other programs. When I first heard about these, I was very intrigued. Their Patriot’s Pen essay contest is for grades six through eight, and the Voice of Democracy contest is for high-school students grades nine through 12.
The theme for Voice of Democracy for this year was “My Responsibility to America.” It was a very fitting theme, and one that made me reflect. Our veterans and current service members have given their time, talents and energy toward protecting us and our rights. They are fully practicing their responsibility, and then some. For most people my age, this is something that is not even thought about. Young people can revel in the freedom America gives us without fully realizing the sacrifices made to earn that very freedom.
In my essay, I wrote about that I cannot take for granted the rights I have enjoyed as an American citizen. America was and is continuing to be built on a commitment to improving life for ourselves and our children. The American Dream is all about that if you work hard enough, you can get ahead. We should not expect things to be given to us for free but that honest effort will be rewarded.
My responsibility to America is to take every opportunity I can to improve myself and to work with those around me – to be involved in voting and to volunteer toward improving my town and the world. I cannot grow complacent with the way things are; Americans should always be ready to stand up for one another and fight for what’s right.
After hundreds of essays were submitted and judged in the Sixth VFW district, I was honored to be selected as one of nine competitors aiming to be the Minnesota state winner of the contest. Traveling to the Twin Cities on Jan. 21 for the ceremony, I was able to meet many outstanding veterans and organization members. The amount of hospitality given was truly extraordinary, and I thank all of the organizers for how helpful everyone was.
My fellow competitors were very gracious as well. Despite the high stakes on the line, I had many great conversations with them. Everyone had put a lot of effort into their entries. When the results were announced, the candidate for the Seventh district was selected as the winner. Upon listening to her speech, I could tell all the passion and thought involved. She will now go on to the national competition in Washington, D.C. I will be cheering for Minnesota all the way.
Through it all, seeing all the great people that comprise the VFW, I appreciate everything they have done for this country. I hope my generation can see just how far each of them has gone. Whether it was fighting in a foreign land, raising a family or being active citizens of their towns and cities, they have gone the extra mile. I hope to live up to that same standard, and to make my contribution to my city and country at large. They are amazing role models to aspire to, and I was honored to be able to talk with them about their experiences.
This brings to mind for me the famous words uttered by President John F. Kennedy at his first inaugural address some 55 years ago. “Ask not what your country can do for you. Ask what you can do for your country.” I will continue to ask myself that question, and I hope to do what I can for this country.
Connor Kockler is a Sauk Rapids-Rice High School student. He enjoys writing, politics and news, among other interests.