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Lombard VFW Post 5815 Announces VOD Champions

Glenbard East Senior Anna Barbee Advances to District Level

Each year, the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) engages teenagers by asking what democracy means to them—a thought-provoking question that's been repeated annually since 1947.

Each year, according to the VFW, as many as 40,000 students in grades nine through 12 enter the Voice of Democracy (VOD) audio-speech program to earn their share of $1.9 million dollars in scholarship money.

The audio-essay program challenges young people to share their perspective on a democratic and patriotic theme with a national winner earning a $30,000 scholarship and other scholarships available from $16,000 to $1,000.00. .

This year, Anna Barbee of Glenbard East High Shool and Narayan Sharma of Fenwick High School, Elmhurst submitted their entries directly to the Lombard VFW Lilac Post 5815.

According to post commander Dennis Jensen, this year’s theme is "What Makes America Great,” and Glenbard East High School senior Anna Barbee earned first place, while Narayan Sharma of Elmhurst, a Fenwick High School junior, placed second.

VOD Chairman Tom Zilla stated that Narayan was able to enter the contest in Lombard because Elmhurst does not have a VFW post.

"The theme is different every year,” Zilla continued, explaining that students record an original three- to five-minute audio essay that of the post. He added that entries are judged by a panel and that listens  to the essays and are ju this year which, according to the rules, do not identify the student by name, school, city, state, race or national origin in the essay itself.

Zilla said contestants are judged on originality, content and presentation, and commented, "Both speeches were very moving…the flow of the story.”

Anna said her father, Randy Barbee, a veteran who spent 22 years, 2 months, in the U.S. Army Reserves, was "an enormous inspiration” for her essay.

Barbee said he remembers her asking him what makes America great, adding, "She popped [that] question on me.”

"He was very surprised at first,” Anna said of the inquiry to her dad.

"I…I don’t know,” was his response, Anna stated in her essay, adding, "The question seemed to throw him slightly, as if he didn’t expect one of such magnitude during our car ride to the grocery store.”

Her essay goes on to say that with her dad having fought in both the Gulf and Iraq wars, she was surprised that he was silent and "seemingly deep in reflection.”

She believes being an American "means we are awarded particular luxuries of life because of the people who sacrificed theirs,” and went on to mention the founding fathers and her own belief in "the body of fundamental principles on which we were built.”

Anna mentioned the value of education, and how she plans to do justice to those who have served our country by continuing her education.

"I’m excited and proud,” said her dad of his daughter’s winning the achievement.

Mom Julie Barbee said, "When she read it to me, it was just so beautifully written.”

Narayan wrote that he was with his grandfather, "trying to figure out a difficult puzzle. Each piece was shaped differently, but each one was very important in order to create a total picture.”

His grandfather told him that each of those pieces was "like an American, who individually works to create a much more beautiful picture.”

He went on to quote John F. Kennedy’s famous statement when he told Americans to "ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country,” and stated that for him, it expressed the then-president’s determination to make a great nation.

Narayan also wrote that throughout history, "Americans have shown that sacrifice comes naturally to us,” and that Americans "prepare for the challenge of the day,” adding that facing obstacles makes us stronger.

He cited Helen Keller as an example of someone in the nation's history who faced and overcame many obstacles.

Narayan said his sophomore speech teacher told him about the contest, and at the time, "I wasn’t sure what the VFW was.”

Again, citing Kennedy as someone who was "trying to motivate people, inspire people,” Narayan said, "I wanted to drive home that message [of] motivation, determination.”

Those messages "led us to where we are as America today,” he added. "I just hoped that it could impact the veterans,” and relay his appreciation for the challenges they faced.

Of Anna’s essay, "It was her originality. She equated it with her father serving in the Middle East,” Zilla said, "and how she expressed her views.”

He said Narayan also showed originality in his essay, and "He talked about how Americans are willing to make the ultimate sacrifice.”

The point of the contest, Zilla emphasized, is "to instill in them a patriotic fervor for our country; to let them know about what has shaped our country.”

Anna will move on to the district-level contest to be held Jan. 18 in Warrenville, Zilla outlined, where she will compete winners among the posts in the 19thDistrict.

Should she place first at the district level, Anna and her family will be invited to Springfield where the State level winners are announced and the first place State winner and their family will be invited to Washington, D.C. for a week long all expenses paid trip to join the 53 other Department (state) winners

Read more about the Voice of Democracy contest at https://www.vfw.org/community/youth-and-education/youth-scholarships.