The VFW is dedicated to promoting patriotism and investing future generations.

Established in 1947, its Voice of Democracy program provides high-school students with the opportunity to express themselves through a democratic and patriotic-themed essay. Each year, nearly 40,000 students in Grades 9-12 from across the United States enter to win their share of more than $1.9 million in educational scholarships and incentives awarded through the program.

The national first-place winner receives a $30,000 scholarship paid directly to the recipient’s American university, college or vocational/technical school.

Other national scholarships range from $1,000-$16,000, and the first-place winner from each VFW department (state level) wins a minimum scholarship of $1,000 as well as an all-expense-paid trip to Washington, D.C.

The 2019-20 theme was: “What Makes America Great?”

The Redwood VFW Post 2553 hosted an essay contest and announced the winner during the recent Veterans Day program in Redwood Falls. The winning essay was read during the program.

The winners from Redwood Valley High School are: Victoria Jorgenson, first place, Keelie Van Hee, second place, and Sofia Schmitz, third place.

What follows is the winning essay:

What Makes America Great?

By Victoria Jorgenson

“America is too great for small dreams.”

These words were spoken by Ronald Reagan in the 80s, during a dynamic time in this great nation’s history. The United States of America was nearing the end of the Cold War, the first tax reductions since John F. Kennedy were coming into play and technology was on the verge of a rapid increase.

This country was built on change, innovation, adaption, bravery and unity.

Ever since Thomas Jefferson put his pen on the page to write what is now known as the Declaration of Independence, the U.S. has constantly been revising and bettering not only itself, but the state of the world.

The word “America” has become synonymous with this country and what it stands for. Ever since the first settlers arrived on land in Jamestown, Virginia, America has been known as a land of freedom and enthralling opportunities – a place where one could be allowed to preach his/her individual or shared ideals and beliefs, act and/or dress in ways according to the individual’s personal liking, own private land and arms, worship any god one felt inclined to believe in and many other important rights an American citizen is allowed to have.

America’s history revolves around brave men and women who believed in this nation’s future enough to lay down their lives on the battlefield for the rights and freedoms many people take for granted today.

One thing America has managed to attain a higher level of than any other country is social equity. Despite cultural, racial, financial, sexual or any other differences, no man or woman is to be treated higher than anyone else.

As the Declaration of Independence stated, "All men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” 

Even in 1776, when the U.S. was just beginning the long fight for its freedom, the Founding Fathers knew, that as a country, we had to be united, and in order to be united, we had to respect each other and understand that, ultimately, we are all created equal. Wars are not fought alone, meaning our rights were not gained by one singular person.

We all must work together to create change, like so many before us who worked to make this country the beauty it has become. Younger people seem to occasionally adapt a mindset in which they believe they are too young, or too insignificant to change the world and create a future in which they would want to live, but due to the opportunities we were given, we can educate ourselves on almost any topic we want to learn, as America is home to over 5,000 colleges educating millions of people on thousands of subjects.

We can meet new people from all different cultures and races, as people come from all over the globe to follow their dreams and explore new possibilities. We are expected to live longer lives than all the generations coming before us due to modern American medicine, giving us more time to grow, learn, and experience everything we can.

In 1900, the average person was expected to live only 50 years, as opposed to the projected 79.28 in 2040. In addition, America has also been known for its kind, but gentle firmness relating to our foreign policy. For decades, the United States has been a global leader, not only stopping Germany and Japan from creating – and escalating – conflict in World War II, but turning around and helping them rebuild, as well as making close allies.

Now we continue to try to assist other nations in the modern world, such as Iraq and Afghanistan. The United Nations, an organization dedicated to creating international peace and global unity, was co-founded by America, on our own soil. Day by day, we are continuing to help make the world a better, more cohesive, inclusive place.

Our country has been known for our innovation and creativity. The airplane, the air conditioner, the internet, sliced bread, ferris wheels, chocolate chip cookies, dental floss, hearing aids, traffic lights, microwave ovens, cardiac defibrillators, assembly lines, lasers, light-emitting diodes (LEDs), chemo-therapy, Global Positioning System (GPS), e-mail, mobile phones, personal computers, and many other everyday items were created on American soil.

America is something to be proud of. Despite being a relatively new country, we have achieved much together as a nation, and as a people.

America is the home of millions of citizens, with different backgrounds, cultures, ethnicities, sexes, and races, building our strength as a nation as we grow and add more perspectives and individual ideas on different challenges our modern world faces. Together, America is changing and bettering the world, one individual idea at a time.

In some countries, our specific rights and freedoms are only a dream, but in the United States of America, the land of the free, opportunity, adaptability, unity, and innovation are encouraged and used to create a better reality and, hopefully, a better future, not only for its citizens, but for the whole world to enjoy.

America is great because of excellent leaders and extraordinary citizens working together to make it so. Everyone hopes and dreams for freedom, but we, as a country, made it happen and, god-willing, one day these independences America created for itself, will become global.