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VFW Post 8577 recognizes Voice of Democracy, Patriot Pen winners


Cove Leader-Press 


The Copperas Cove Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 8577 recognized the winning teachers and students of the Voice of Democracy and Patriot Pen contests, as well as the Smart/Maher VFW National Citizenship Education Teacher awards with a luncheon Saturday afternoon. 

The Voice of Democracy is an oral essay contest where high school students include a three to five-minute recorded speech along with an essay on a patriotic topic. It has been the VFW’s premier scholarship program since 1947. This year’s theme was about what makes America great. The Patriot’s Pen essay contest had the same theme.  

The National Citizenship Education Teacher awards were for teachers who promote civic responsibility, flag etiquette and patriotism, according to the VFW’s website.

Voice of Democracy and Teacher of the Year, for at least 11 years. 

Before announcing the winners, Voice of Democracy Chairman Tom Duchateau announced that he would be retiring after 26 years in the military and 25 years as a civilian working with the military. He has spent the past 11 years overseeing the contest. 

“We don’t have the opportunity to recognize our youth and our students,” Duchateau said. “We’ve got a lot of talent within the school district, and we don’t have the opportunity to recognize the educators as well, as we should and that’s what our program is all about as well.”

Duchateau added that Copperas Cove Independent School District has “dynamite” teachers and that Superintendent Dr. Joe Burns has “surrounded himself with talent.” 

The winners of the Teacher awards were divided by Elementary, Junior High and High School levels. The winners were Heather Gutierrez, from Clements/ Parsons Elementary; Michael Morales, from Copperas Cove Junior High School; and Chief Enrique Herrera, from Copperas Cove High School. 

Each teacher was nominated by their respective schools. Copperas Cove High School JROTC Instructor Chief Enrique Herrera was nominated Principal Jimmy Shuck. CCJHS Interim Principal Robert Turner nominated 7th grade history teacher Morales. Clements/Parsons Elementary Principal Katherine Baney nominated teacher and Army veteran Gutierrez. 

The winners of the Patriot’s Pen Contest were Emileigh McLaughlin, Kaylee Rodarte and Gabriella Emeana. 

The winners of the Voice of Democracy were Rylee Oster and Madelyn Miller.

Each winner received a certificate and a monetary award. 

Winners of the Patriot’s Pen and the Voice of Democracy were invited to read aloud their submitted essays. 

Oster shared a message from one of her high school math teachers who frequently told his class that ‘Life is what you make of it.’ 

In America, life is made of a series of choices, from how to wake up, where to go to school and how to spend money, Oster said. 

“Everything in America is a choice. We are not forced to do anything. That is why America is great because that means we have the choice to make our own decisions in life,” Oster said. 

She went on to speak about how different America is compared to third world countries where citizens and especially women have fewer freedoms. 

“A key staple of what makes America great is your right to a free mind. The mind is the most powerful thing,” Oster said. “The way you think dictates how you will live and in America, your mind is not made for mass production. Your mind is a contemporary work of art, of no specific type of design.”

Miller’s speech called on the rights granted the U.S. Constitution, of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. 

“The rights guaranteed to us by our Founding Fathers allow us be our own person and guarantee us the opportunity to pursue our dreams, no matter the cost,” Miller said. 

Miller went on to compare America’s freedoms of religion, speech, protest and more to those of other nations who aren’t as free. 

“With the freedom to worship who we wish, the right to cast your vote in elections and the ability to chase all of your dreams, this is what makes America, our home, so very great,” Miller said. “American citizens are only limited by their ability to dream and grow, and thus our nation is empowered to be the very best it can be, generation after generation.”

Following the ceremony, Shuck shared his thoughts on three of the winners being from Copperas Cove High School, either as students or a teacher. 

“We’ve got great kids in Copperas Cove, and Rylee and Maddie are just two kids that are just kind of the step above in doing this sort of job in everything that they do, so it wasn’t surprising to see both of them up there, and I’m proud of both of them,” Shuck said. “That Chief [Herrera] won the teacher one- at the high school, he does tremendous in everything that he undertakes and he’s involved in everything. That’s the thing about all three of them, they’re all involved in many things, not just this aspect of it.”

Shuck added that the two students’ speeches both spoke of opportunities. 

“If you listened to their speech, the things that they talked about was being able to have the choice to be able to make the most out of their lives, and that’s the great thing about this country is that it gives us those opportunities and both the students and the teacher have done that,” Shuck said. “They know they have a goal, and they focus on that, and they work hard towards that end. I think you’ll see many great things from both of them in the future.”

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