Tiger Arena at Nevis School was packed Friday afternoon as members of the community gathered to honor area veterans.
Before the program, kindergarten students had the opportunity to have their snack break with area veterans in the lunchroom.
The oldest veteran present at the program was Tom Bell, 97, of Nevis, who attended the ceremony with his son, Bob.
Marine Ron Masanz talked about how veterans form a band of brothers and it is important to remember and honor them, especially those who didn’t come back.
Masanz talked about walking in Memorial Day, Fourth of July and Armistice Day parades, carrying an American flag in South Saint Paul. “When that flag went by, everybody saluted,” he said. “We were taught in kindergarten to salute the flag and we hope that you still all honor that.”
He encouraged students to say “thanks for your service” to anyone they see wearing a military uniform or cap. “It means a lot to a veteran to hear that,” he said. “Veteran’s Day is an important day.”
Each year, the Veterans of Foreign Wars sponsor a Patriot’s Pen and Voice of Democracy essay contest for students. This year’s theme was “What Makes America Great.”
Voice of Democracy awards were presented to students in grades 9-12 and Patriot’s Pen awards to sixth through eighth grades.
Sierra Wroolie, who won first place in the Voice of Democracy essay contest, said what makes America great is the power of the people, freedom of speech and endless opportunities for all. “In our country, every voice has an opportunity to be heard through voting,” she said. “And by having one person use their voice, a whole movement can happen. Many believe that their voices are not loud enough to make a difference, so they choose to be silent instead. Being silent is a grave mistake, because if leaders such as Martin Luther King, Jr., Susan B. Anthony or Rosa Parks were silent, we would be in a world where only white men could have a voice. By speaking up and advocating for what we believe in, we have the power to create change.”
Paige Cowden was awarded second place, and certificates of participation were given to Sofia Anderson, Brenna Boushee, Amythyst Brownfield, Addison Lindow, Molly Lindow, Brooklyn Partlow and Jade Rypkema.
Karch Frazer won first place in the Patriot’s Pen essay contest. He said what makes American great is not a slogan on a hat and can’t be found on a presidential debate stage. He said it is having the freedom to go to school, church or the mall without being arrested or harassed.
“I can give my opinion, even if I disagree with my teacher or the police or the government, without being afraid of what could happen to me or my family,” he said. “What makes America great is I can choose whatever job I want to do, whether that’s a mechanic or a doctor or a lawyer.”
Alexis Wambolt was awarded second place in the Patriot’s Pen contest, with certificates of participation given to Lucas Gentry and Morgan Monroe.
First place essays will be forwarded to the VFW District for judging, with winners going on to the National VFW Headquarters for final judging.
After the program, students lined up to give each veteran a handshake or high-five before heading back to classes.