Students with contest-winning essays read to Northfield’s Veterans of Foreign Wars post Wednesday and will go on to represent Northfield in the state competition.

The theme for Voice of Democracy, an audio essay competition for high school students, this year is, “My Responsibility to America” while the theme for Patriot’s Pen, for middle school students is, “The America I Believe In.”

First place receives $200, second place receive $150 and third place receives $100. Northfield High School student Logan Ledman, who won second place last year, took first place for his essay inspired by a recent visit to Arlington Cemetery.

“As I walked through that cemetery a few weeks ago, I couldn’t help but be moved by what I was seeing,” Ledman read to the audience. “A tribute to the the ultimate responsibility that each grave represented − my responsibility − and the responsibility of every American − to uphold and defend what America stands for.

“A growing distrust and loss of faith in the American promise is spreading across the country at an alarming rate. But why? The United States is still the most powerful nation in the world, with innovation and ingenuity that never stops striving to better the world, with a promise that still draws millions of hopeful souls to our shores every year, with a military that holds unprecedented global power to restore and defend freedom, with a patriotic citizenry who would and will do anything to satisfy their responsibility to uphold and defend American values,” Ledman’s essay later read.

Ledman will be going on to the state competition this month, where he could receive $1,000, or even the national grand prize of $30,000 paid directly to the school of his choice, according to the scholarship website.

Julie Odette, the former VFW district president, was so moved by his presentation that she took to the microphone and told the audience that, of the two competitions she’s been to, there has been no entry like Ledman’s.

“I have a feeling the we have a first-place winner in the state of Minnesota,” Odette told the crowd.

Hannah Singh, last year’s first-place winner, took second place. Third-place winner Delina Haileab, who told the audience she was a first-generation American, brought another perspective to what her responsibility to America is.

“Issues such as racism, sexism, discrimination against certain sexualities, as well as discrimination against religious and cultural groups are all issues that citizens of this country may be facing,” Haileab told the audience. “To look past these issues and say that they are irrelevant because they don’t apply to you is unacceptable and in that case, one is not fulfilling their responsibility. We are each responsible for educating ourselves on these topics if we are looking to get anywhere near eliminating them.”

According to VFW Post 4393 Commander Bruce Stowe, there were six entrants for Patriot’s Pen, where students in grades sixth through eighth were to write a 300-400 word essay. Kiara Wynn Artley took first place, and $100, Ava O’Neill took second place, and $50, while Ryann Eddy took third place and $25.

“The America I believe in includes people of all race, gender and sexuality,” O’Neill read. “We, America, are open to new things, different people, and accepting difference as only a unique quality that makes different people special.”

Patriot’s Pen also has another contest for fifth graders, of which all three winners were from Sibley Elementary. Kat Organ, first place, Katie Kick, second place, and Eleanor Lightfield, third place, read their essays on how they show their patriotism.

“To hear them here is just marvelous,” said Auxiliary member Glee Stark, who chaired Patriot’s Pen. “They’re really good and well thought-out.”

Reach Reporter Ida Mojadad at 507-333-3135 or follow her on Twitter @APGidamojadad

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