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Lufkin homeschooler Jessica Schlaudt, 17, took 10th place in the nation and first place in the state in the Voice of Democracy essay competition for her essay on “What Makes America Great.” She won a $10,000 scholarship at state and a $3,000 at nationals.

Angelina County homeschool student Jessica Schlaudt placed 10th in the nation for her essay in the Voice of Democracy contest hosted by the Veterans of Foreign Wars.

At the announcement dinner, they called the students to the stage and announced their scholarships and awards from the bottom up. Jessica received a $3,000 scholarship.

“It was really nerve-racking but also fun because you got to see your friends succeed,” Jessica said. “I got 10th. I was very happy, but they didn’t call out the place numbers until they got to fourth place, so I didn’t put two-and-two together until I was off the stage and my parents told me.”

Each contestant also received a book with each essay that advanced to the national level. Jessica said she was struck by how amazingly talented every person was.

“The most amazing and humbling thing about this whole experience has been seeing how seriously the men and women in the VFW take their oath to serve their country,” she said. “They take it far beyond simply protecting us and preserving our freedoms. They are actively ensuring that there is a new generation of American patriots to step up and continue to keep America great.

“The scholarships and the trips and the VIP treatment have been wonderful, but the real prize I’ve gotten from this whole experience has been a spark from these veterans’ passion. They’ve inspired me to try to be as much for my country as I can be, and I think that is the most valuable thing any American citizen can have.”

She traveled to Washington, D.C., with 51 other competitors and experienced many different sights and attractions. The students visited Mt. Vernon, the Holocaust and spy museums, a night tour of the National Monument and more.

“Arlington Cemetery was very sobering,” Jessica said. “Seeing the massive amount of white stones and markers that extend for acres as far as you can see, seeing the changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, seeing how dedicated those soldiers are and how everything is all geared toward honoring the fallen was amazing to me.”

The other students were quite welcoming, Jessica said. When she first got to the event, she immediately started speaking with a group of students.

“They were very warm and welcoming, and it was like we all knew we were in this together,” she said. “We just bonded really quickly.”

Getting to meet 51 other fabulous kids who treated you like their best friends was the time of her life, Jessica said.

“This competition is valuable because it makes you think,” she said. “It makes you stop and really consider the prompt question, which may be something you have never thought about before, and when you do start to try to answer it, you start seeing things about America you never saw before. It becomes so much more valuable in your eyes, so much more worth it to fight for.”

For more information about the local Voice of Democracy contest, contact the VFW Post 1836 at 634-4133.

Grace Juarez’s email address is grace.juarez@lufkindailynews.com.

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