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To promote patriotism among high school students the Veterans of Foreign Wars organization (VFW) holds a scholarship contest, Voice of Democracy. Throughout the country, nearly forty thousand high school students apply for a part of the two million dollars of educational scholarship. The only requirement is an audio-essay on the topic of the year, My Responsibility of America.
Woodland senior, Alyssa Varesio, participated in this scholarship contest this year and placed as a top six finalist within the state of Connecticut. Varesio based her belief of her responsibility to America on three things: fact-checking sources, using unalienable rights, and staying updated on events within country.
“These responsibilities to America are vital because when citizens do not use them, our country stagnates, and we lose all forward progress,” believes Varesio.
Writing this essay channeled two important classes to Varesio– Civics and Advanced Placement Psychology– allowing her to easily write a seven hundred word essay. While some of her beliefs came from outside the classroom, Civics and Psychology allowed Varesio to support her statements.
“After I finished recording the essay, I was really proud and thought it was great, but I never expected to be called as a finalist,” admits Varesio. “I wrote the essay because I strongly believed in my opinions, so I am happy many others can read it.”
Both classes also have something in common besides their impact on Varesio’s essay. Teaching each class was Region Sixteens Teacher of the Year for 2017, Lisa Olivere. Olivere’s teaching style and curriculum facilitated what Varesio would achieve as it allowed her to include facts about current events and the psychology behind social behaviors.
“I am really grateful to Ms. O because what she teaches is so important to students when transitioning into becoming a voting adult,” believes Varesio.
On the other side, Olivere was pleasantly surprised and proud once reading Varesio’s essay for the first time.
“I was incredibly happy for Alyssa when I read her award winning essay. I was filled with great joy and pride because it’s extremely gratifying for me when I see students rewarded for their hard work,” believes Olivere. “If you know Alyssa, you know she is very earnest. She’s extremely conscientious, she values learning and growing intellectually. Whether she’s writing an article for Hawk Headlines or an essay for my class, if her name is on it, I know she’s put her heart and head into it. ”
Olivere also agrees that what a lot students learn in Civics, one of Woodland’s required classes, can help in the future. The classes at Woodland can easily allow students to form knowledgeable opinions about the democracy and state of the government. Olivere believes that Alyssa would make all teachers proud.
“We often think that the health and well-being of our country is solely in the hands of our political leaders, but the preservation of our democracy is dependent on a well informed and active citizenry. Alyssa packaged these concepts and ideas eloquently in her essay,” believes Olivere. “I wish that all Americans would read and follow her advice. Alyssa makes me hopeful for our future because I know that soon she will be among those that will lead all of us.”
Varesio originally stood as a finalist in the top six. But, on January 15th, the VFW held a dinner for the finalists, where they announced the winners. Varesio ended up placing third for the state of Connecticut. Varesio never expected to win but is happy for the chance at a large scholarship for college. Still waiting to hear from many schools, Varesio has already been admitted to Boston College, where she plans on majoring in Biology before going to Medical School.
Here’s Varesio’s essay on My Responsibility to America;
“My Responsibility to America”
Knowledge is power. In a nation where our news sources are strategically biased to lean right or left, and our political candidates are mocked more than they are understood, it is the personal responsibility of every American citizen to learn the truth. But, how can we learn the truth with all of these biased news sources? Although high schoolers in my home state are required to take a civics class, these useful research tools may eventually escape us. That is why it is our responsibility as Americans to fact-check our sources, stay updated on what’s happening in our political system, and make use of our rights to freedom of speech, press, and self-protection.
The presidential debates for the 2016 election were both passionate and colorful, and the debate on September 26, 2016 was the most watched presidential debate in history. About eighty-four million viewers were enticed with the sheer voracity of the candidates, and the debate was heavily discussed in the following few days. Here is our problem: most fact-checking organizations and websites, such as PolitiFact, NPR, The New York Times, and the Washington Post all agreed that much of what was said in the debate was slanted, or even completely untrue. Many statements were made with the intention of incensing viewers– but our nation was not founded on the idea that in order for political leaders to win, we have to let them mislead us with information that will make us favor their personality more than their views. Therefore, it is the responsibility of Americans to know what is being said, how it is being said, and what certain principles and ideas could do to shape this country.
Another obligation that is necessary for our democracy is to update ourselves on what is going on in our country, and to inform those who don’t. Although watching certain news stations or reading certain papers can sway our views to lean right or left, we have to check our bias and observe both sides of every argument. A basic concept of social psychology is that of group polarization. This describes the social tendency that when like-minded people come together and discuss a topic that they have similar viewpoints on, they might make decisions or conclusions that are much more intense than they originally intended. For example, I work as a waitress in a small, family-owned diner located in a predominantly Republican town. As I listen to the chatter of diner patrons sitting at the coffee bar, I notice that strangers commonly start chatting lightly about politics, and after just a few minutes of conversation, the topic turns from banter to complete degradation of all things democratic. For this reason, it is of the utmost importance to know what is happening (from multiple points of view) and to converse with people who may not see eye-to-eye with oneself.
After everything that our forefathers have done for us, it is our responsibility to take advantage of the rights that we were born with. Freedom of the press allows us to learn what is happening in our nation, without worrying about government censorship. We are allowed freedom of speech, which gives us the opportunity to put our voices into the community and speak about matters that are important to us. We have the right to bear arms and protect ourselves in any dangerous situation. And, most importantly, every American citizen has the right to vote. Voting is not only a right, it is also a duty and a responsibility. We need to be educated voters, equipped with the knowledge to choose leaders who will represent our moral values and beliefs in the best way possible.
As Benjamin Franklin exited Independence Hall in 1787 after the Constitutional Convention, he was asked by a nearby lady, “Well, Doctor, what have we got–a Republic or a Monarchy?” to which he replied, “A Republic…if you can keep it.” Franklin’s words still ring true and serve as both a warning and a requirement; in order for our nation to flourish and remain strong, it is our responsibility to America to inform ourselves of the truth.