Today’s youth are tomorrow’s leaders

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“The future depends on what you do today.”These words once spoken by Indian civil rights leader Mahatma Gandhi were the inspiration for the winning Voice of Democracy essay written by Camas High School student Amanda Felipe.

Felipe and 14 other winners of the annual Veterans of Foreign Wars District 6 competitions were recognized during an awards ceremony on Sunday afternoon, at the Camas Community Center.

Entries submitted by high school students in the Voice of Democracy essay contest responded to the theme: “Why I’m Optimistic About Our Nation’s Future.”

Felipe argued that improvements are being made in a variety of areas. She provided examples that ranged from schools offering male and female students more opportunities to take part in a variety of extra-curricular activities and sports to advances in technology that have allowed citizens to engage in their government at a higher level.

“The United States is heading in the right direction,” she said, reading her essay to the crowd. “With improvements being made in employment and academic requirements, the increasing extra-curricular activities and the advances in technology being made, I see a bright future for our country.

“These factors are changing our future for the better,” Felipe continued. “We are building on a good foundation. I am optimistic about our nation’s future because we are following the wisdom of Gandhi — we are preparing for it today.”

According to event Co-Chairman David Barton, there were 11 entries in the District 6 Voice of Democracy contest that were scored on a 110-point scale. Just a handful of points separated first and last place, and the top three essays all initially received the same score. Another judge was tapped to break the tie.

For her win, Felipe earned $300, a plaque and an American flag. Her essay will now be entered into the state competition, with the possibility of moving on to the national level where it would compete for scholarship money.

The Voice of Democracy second-place winner of $200 was Camas High School student Thomas Hudson, while third place and $100 went to Ben Fewkes of Kalama High School.

Sunday’s event also honored the winners of the VFW State Youth Essay and Patriot’s Pen contests and Teacher of the Year winners. According to VFW Post 4278 Commander Bob Hitchcock, more than 700 students in third through 12th grade, attending public, private and home schools from Kalama to Stevenson, submitted essays that focused on patriotism and American heroes.

First place in Patriot’s Pen went to Emma Hein, a student at Canyon Creek Middle School in Washougal.

First place State Youth Essay winners were Alexis Graetzke, a fifth-grader at Gause Elementary School in Washougal; Todd Tabor, a fourth-grader at Kalama Elementary School; and Aiden Bai, a third-grader at Prune Hill Elementary School in Camas.

Teachers of the Year were Gretchen Kipp of King’s Way Christian School in Vancouver and Eric Linthwaite of Camas High School.

Vancouver Deputy Mayor Larry Smith, a retired Army colonel and current co-chairman of the Community Military Appreciation Committee, was the event’s keynote speaker.

Smith, who served 27 years in the military, including two tours in Vietnam, spoke about patriotism.

“When you talk about patriotism, it means different things to different people,” he said. “If you take an immigrant who is coming over to this country and is looking to get ahead, and you ask what patriotism means to him or her it may be a little bit different than to someone like me who has grown up here and is a third generation in this country.”

Smith explained that patriots are not limited to those who have served in the military. There are many different ways to give back to one’s country and community, he said.

“When is comes to patriotism, ask yourself what does it mean to you. Does it mean putting a flag up outside your house? Does it mean protesting in the street that over a policy you don’t like, but you think it’s important? Do you think being active in your community and serving on boards and commissions is important — does that make you a better patriot? Does it mean being in elected office? It’s really quite open.”

Smith described patriotic values as those that include hard work, social mobility, and respect for freedom, rule of law and democracy.

“When you get down and you condense it all, [the definition is] the love of your country and the opportunity to get ahead and be successful,” he said.