Members of Randall Collins Post 3108, Veterans of Foreign Wars, awarded prizes this month for patriotic essays written by middle and high school students in the annual Patriot's Pen and Voice of Democracy youth scholarship competitions.

The Voice of Democracy theme for 2018-19 asks high school students to reflect on “Why My Vote Matters.” Kami Smith Cross of Brooks, a senior at Mount View High School in Thorndike, won the local Voice of Democracy competition this year. Members of the Belfast VFW post presented a certificate and a $500 check to Cross Nov. 8.

The Voice of Democracy audio-essay competition is open to all students in grades nine to 12. They vie for the top national prize, a $30,000 scholarship award. Nearly 40,000 high school students compete nationally in the annual competition.

In a ceremony Nov. 20 at Troy Howard Middle School, VFW members honored five students for their Patriot's Pen essays. Award winners this year are Taylor Cutliffe, first place ($100); Madison Resh, second place ($75); Erin Faith Fuller, third place ($50), and Lilianna Cortez and Chelsea Gaeiro (absent that day), tied for fourth place ($25 each).

Making the presentations were Sheriff Jeff Trafton, a Marine veteran, handing out certificates; Army veteran Bill Pollack, giving each recipient a star cut from a retired American flag; and Vietnam veteran Steve Brown, presenting checks. With them was Navy veteran Jim Roberts, operations manager for the VFW post.

The Patriot’s Pen essay competition is open to all students in grades six through eight, and the 2018-19 competition asks students to examine the statement, “Why I Honor the American Flag.” The national first-place winner will receive a $5,000 award.

In total, these awards amount to $3 million the VFW gives away across the country annually in scholarships to young people.

Kami Smith Cross's winning essay

"Why My Vote Matters"

People should vote in elections because it is their democratic right, it helps them effect change, and it ensures their voice is heard. Furthermore, children and other members of the society who cannot vote depend on voters to make the right decisions on their behalf.

Voting in elections is an inherent element of every form of democracy. Widespread participation of citizens in political processes is the cornerstone of democracy. Therefore, voting should be regarded as a privilege, which involves a certain degree of responsibility.

In truth, there is practically no chance that your vote will ever decide and election unless you live in a very small town and are voting for city council or something. Above that, even close elections are typically decided by a few thousand votes.So there must be some other reason why it is important to vote.

It's no secret that the U.S. has one of the lowest turnouts for voting, especially for a country so fiercely protective of freedom, the face is that we don't exercise the rights that are denied to many around the world.

Reasons to vote

To honor Founding Father Benjamin Franklin's challenge to us all. Following the close of the Constitutional Convention, he was asked, "What have we got, a republic or a monarchy?" He answered, "A republic, if you can keep it!"

"Elections belong to the people. It's their decision. If they decide to turn their back on the people and burn their behinds, then they will have to sit on their blisters." — Abraham Lincoln

Because "Taxation without representation is tyranny." — James Otis

For the 38,159 missint in action, awaiting a return home to their nation of equality, justice, and freedom. If you don't vote for your own interests, who will? Because "Apathy gets you the government we have today." — Gil Sery

"You can vote for yourself, or someone you really like." — Dillon McHug

Full answer

In the 2016 elections, nearly 43 percent of eligible voters did not exercise their right to vote, according to The Washington Post. Of the 232 million eligible voters, only 132 million voters case a ballot in the 2016 elections. There are many reasons why people do not vote, including not believing their voices are heard, long lines and other barriers at the polls, or simply forgetting to even show up on Election Day. Some argue there is no point in participating. However, there are several reasons why people should take the time to vote in elections.

Officials know who votes

Elected officials pay attention to who is taking the time to cast a vote. They see trends in different areas and populations that consistently vote and those who do not. If one community shows up in smaller numbers than another, politicians will pay less attention to them. They will not spend as much time hearing the interests of those people or appealing them to gain votes. Instead, politicians will campaign for the causes, priorities and interests of those they can county on to go to the polls. Though the candidate a person votes for does not always win, the one who does or future candidates will hear those voices and concerns and use them to establish new policy.

Voting is a privilege

Voting is a right and privilege that many Americans take for granted. Immigrants and relatives of families from other parts of the world have seen and experienced firsthand what it is like to be governed by leaders who were not elected by the people. They know what it is like to have laws and policies enacted that do not reflect the desires and needs of the people. Being able to participate in an election and be part of the process in choosing the next leaders and representatives is a privilege that should never be taken lightly.

Taylor Cutliffe's winning essay

"Why I Honor the American Flag"

I honor my American flag because when I look at our American flag I think of all the people out there who fight in all the battles and wars that have happened. When I look at the flag I know that the United States has gone a long way to bring us all together as a nation.

I have been researching about the flag a lot now so I can learn the different opinions on the flag. So here is what I've learned about the American flag and how much more it means to me.

I used to think the colors were just there because they look good together or because they were just randomly selected out of a jar. Now I know the real meanings of the flag colors. Here's what I have learned about the colors.

White means purity and innocence, red means hardiness and valor, and blue signifies vigilance, (perseverance), and justice. They picked those colors because they were the colors the founding fathers had served under or had been exposed to.

The stars: In 1861 the confederates made a flag with 13 stars. The stars were in a circle. There were 13 stars because there were 13 confederate states. In May of 2016 the House of Representatives voted to ban the confederate flag. In 1959 the 50-star flag was made and it was adopted in 1960.

Why I Honor the American Flag: I honor the American flag because I know that our country will fight back and forth over things even if it's things like who the president is going to be or gun laws or even how some states do things different than others. People and states all try to be their own union(s). Everyone knows that all states have ups and downs. But when we look at the flag, whether it's deep inside or on the tip of your tongue, we all know that when we look at the flag we all are a nation and I hope everyone is glad we are.