The speech that won Carrie Drouillard top prize in the Ohio VFW Voice of Democracy competition not only came from her heart, but reflected her actions.
A 17-year-old Maumee High School senior, Carrie spoke to an audience of about 500 on Jan. 26 in Akron when she read a letter to a U.S. soldier serving in Iraq.
An e-mail pen pal to three soldiers in Iraq, the speech that won her a ticket to the national contest in Washington next month was an extension of the pride she feels for "my soldiers" and the American troops.
"Sometimes I don't hear from them for a while, but I keep on writing. It's weird. You write to someone you've never met, and you feel so close to them," said Carrie, who writes to all three soldiers daily. "One of my soldiers told me I was the first teenager ever to say thank you to him, and that really affected me," she said.
The Voice of Democracy has been the VFW's premier scholarship program since its inception in 1947. Each year more than 100,000 high school students compete for more than $2.5 million in scholarships and incentives by writing and delivering a speech on a patriotic theme. Prizes are awarded at the local, district, state, and national level.
Carrie's coach, Jim Windnagle, a speech teacher at the high school, is excited about her success.
"Carrie is the perfect girl for this kind of speech because she believes in God, her country, and her President," he said. "She's the perfect person to write and speak about patriotism."
Carrie's speech begins falteringly, as she reaches for the right words:
Dear American soldier,
It is a Friday night and I am sitting
here writing this letter to tell you how grateful I am. . . . No, that is not right.
Dear American soldier,
Sometimes when I am scared I think about how courageous it is to do what you do. . . . No, that's not good either.
Dear brave warrior of peace and freedom,
What am I thinking? This is just plain wrong. . . . I am never going to get this right. Why should I even bother?
A little later, however, her feelings find the proper expression:
I celebrate my veterans in the simplest ways I know how: By respecting our troops and preserving the values that our veterans fought for. Freedom is the most delicate of all human pursuits. It is as fragile as a rose. . . .
The other way I celebrate my veterans is by honoring our current troops. These courageous men and women are currently fighting in the battle to preserve American values. Their efforts, however, are sometimes ignored and even criticized. . .
Carrie, a speech and debate team member who is the sixth of 11 children of Paul and Carol Drouillard, said she plans to keep up her correspondence with the three soldiers overseas as she gets ready for college.
She's won a $7,000 scholarship that will go toward her studies at Ohio State University in the fall. Carrie plans to study biochemistry with an eye on becoming a premed student.
Her dedication to her soldiers doesn't surprise Mr. Windnagle.
"She's not a sunshine patriot. She believes in her country and the people who serve it, and all those things," he said.