Each year more than 111,000 students in Grades 6-8 enter the VFW’s Patriot’s Pen youth essay contest for a chance to win their share of more than $900,000 in state and national awards.

Each first-place state winner receives a minimum of $500 at the national level, and the national first-place winner wins $5,000 and an all-expense-paid trip to Washington, D.C.

The 2019-20 theme is: “What Makes America Great?” The essay contest encourages young minds to examine America’s history, along with their own experiences in modern American society, by drafting a 300- to 400-word essay, expressing their views based on a patriotic theme.

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 Middle School are: Andrew Willemssen (first place), Lily DeBlieck (second place) and Ethan Louwagie (third place).

What follows is the winning essay:

What Makes America Great?

By Andrew Willemssen

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that 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.”

These are the words from our Declaration of Independence that make America great. America is a wonderful place to live, because we are free. Freedom is important, and many people in other countries do not have much freedom.

I am glad I have a place like this to grow up in; where I know that everything is equal. Some of our ancestors did not have the privileges we have now because they grew up in other countries. That may be why they moved to America in the first place.

I am very grateful for our country and all of the privileges I have growing up here.

In America, we had to fight for these rights, but not only can we vote, but we can also get the same education and the same jobs as anyone else in today’s society. Another part of America that I like is the way politics are set up. Anyone who thinks they can do a good job is able to run for a place in today’s government.

We don’t only have one ruler who makes all of our rules and laws, but instead the people in America are ruled by the people. I like that, because that way if we want something changed, or if enough of us think that something is wrong with our nation, we can make a difference.

Voting is a big part of making that difference, because voting shows how you want our government run and whom you want to be represented by. We aren’t just represented by our president. We are also represented by our mayors, our governors, senators and everyone else that makes up a part of our government.

The freedom of religion in America is another big thing about America, because that is another reason many people came to America, to choose any religion they want.