Celebrating the Fourth of July, saying the Pledge of Allegiance and singing the national anthem are ways Samuel Dyer said he can be a good American.
These are easy to do, and most people do them sometimes without a second thought, he said.
But what about the space in between?
“By that, I mean what about the time when people are not watching you and you have the choice to either act like a good American or not?” he said. “This could be the time spent at work or school, at a grocery store or simply walking the dog. How do you act then?”
That’s when you can be a truly good American, by choosing to act like one, Dyer said in his Patriot’s Pen essay.
The 13-year-old Immanuel Lutheran School seventh-grader was selected the local winner of the Veterans of Foreign Wars essay contest, open to students in grades 6 to 8. It encourages them 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 chosen by the VFW commander in chief.
This year’s theme was “How Can I Be a Good American?”
The local winner of this year’s Voice of Democracy essay contest was Brownstown Central High School senior Kelsey Wischmeier. That contest provides students in grades 9 to 12 with the unique opportunity to express themselves in regards to a democratic and patriotic-themed recorded essay. This year’s theme was “America: Where Do We Go From Here?”
During a recognition ceremony Jan. 11 at Post 1925, both students read their essay and received a certificate and $500 for winning the local level. Winners have a chance to go on and win state and national awards.
As his essay continued, Dyer shared ways to “fill the space in between.”
“Love is one of the most important ways to fill some space in between, loving all people no matter what, no matter their skin color, religion or race, just loving everyone and loving everyone equally,” he said. “Love fills a lot of space in between.”
Another way to truly be a good American is treating everyone equally and not judging them because they are different from you, he said.
“Not judging because they have a different religion and by accepting everyone no matter how they act or look are traits of a good American,” Dyer said. “Everybody is different. Nobody looks the same or acts the same, and we need to accept this.”
He expanded on that by sharing a quote by Isla Harrington: “We are not a white nation or a Christian nation. We are so much more than that, and painting such a narrow-minded picture does a severe disservice to all the beautiful diversity this nation has woven through it.”
“If we exclude people just because they’re different, we miss a lot of cool stuff,” Dyer said. “But if we accept one another, this nation would be so much better. All we need is love. That’s all it takes to fill the space in between.”
He concluded his essay by saying being a good American is not just waving an American flag or eating hot dogs at a baseball game.
“Being a good American means that we love one another. It means that we love our nation and its citizens no matter what,” Dyer said.
In her essay, Wischmeier said over the past several years, America has suffered a variety of hardships, including experiencing a deadly pandemic, skyrocketing unemployment rates and financial deprivation.
Throughout history, America has overcome the unthinkable: Corrupt systems, captivity and even terrorist attacks, she said.
“As America has conquered previous issues, we can continue to defeat current drawbacks. Working together and staying focused, America can accomplish anything,” she said. “In an effort to put the United States back on track, the American government and population need to have determination and willpower to complete meticulous work.”
The first step to get America back on track is to create unity within the citizens, she said.
“One valuable piece of history that all residents of America share is the Constitution of the United States,” she said. “Uniting people by establishing laws and providing freedom, the Constitution advocates all people to come together as one.”
The history of the American people needs to be recognized, retold and remembered, Wischmeier said.
“By bringing back history, we the American people are bonded and remember the importance of standing together as one to fight for our freedom and prerogative,” she said.
Balancing the country’s budget also is crucial, she said.
“First, nonmandatory costs should be eliminated. By eliminating spending on unnecessary costs, the government would prevent itself from entering more debt,” she said.
“Furthermore, governmental salaries should be significantly lowered,” she said. “By lowering salaries to the standard, average amount, politicians and government officials would be inspired to join governmental jobs to better the country, rather than for the purpose of earning extra money. In addition, lowering salaries would also help prevent corrupt officials from entering the governmental workforce.”
Wischmeier said there are endless opportunities to better America. With unity and bonding, people hold the opportunity to make the country a better place, she said.
“Americans need to find the will and power to keep pushing and working toward a better time,” she said. “Therefore, now, the question is ‘America: Are we willing to make this sacrifice?’”
She then shared a quote from Edward Dunedin: “Don’t give up in times of difficulty. Persevere on as there will be an end to these.”
“(That) should inspire Americans to push through in times of burden and hardship,” she said.
Both students said they found out about their respective essay contest through their school and were drawn to the topics.
“I’ve done a lot of essays, but the subject this year really caught my eye. Just the idea of how to be a good American, you can talk a lot about that,” Dyer said.
“I thought the prompt was pretty interesting, and I thought it was a good way to earn money for college,” Wischmeier said. “I feel like there’s just a lot of different stuff going on in the world right now, so it just caught my eye.”
Being declared the local winners, Wischmeier said it was nice to be recognized for her hard work, and Dyer said it gives him a feeling of pride.
They both encourage other students to enter the contests in the future.
“I came into this, I wanted to write about it, but I didn’t expect to get this far, and seeing as I did, it really could be anybody,” Dyer said.
“It’s nice to look at your history and America as a whole, and it’s a nice way to earn a little money, too,” Wischmeier said. “It’s just a good learning experience.”