IDAHO FALLS, Idaho — The Bonneville County Republican Central Committee awarded their first annual essay scholarship on Tuesday, July 3.
John Henager, vice chairman of the BCRCC, told KID NewsRadio the committee’s first place scholarship and $500 prize went to McKenna Stevens, an incoming senior at Thunder Ridge High School, for her essay on “What Independence Day Means to Me.” In her essay, Stevens described a personal experience while traveling to Washington D.C. with her ballroom dance team and performing a routine to the song, “American Soldier,” by country artist, Toby Keith.
“Our first stop along our tour in Washington D.C. was the Arlington Cemetery,” Stevens wrote in her essay. “There is nothing that can prepare you for the image of 400,000 graves. The silence stung my soul. Each perfectly aligned gravestone represented a family—grieving parents, fatherless and motherless children, widows. I was overcome with the immense pain that countless families have endured across the years… for me.”
Later in the essay, Stevens described what her experience did for personally and professionally, as she performed with her ballroom dance team. The experience changed her life, Stevens said, and will forever change how she sees Independence Day.
“This Independence Day will be unlike any other before it,” Stevens wrote. “As I laugh and play with family and friends, I will do so knowing that it is a gift. As I attend the parade and see the passing flags, I will do so with true reverence in my heart. I am American. That simple title is an honor, for I know that ‘freedom don’t come free.'”
Camille Kolsen, a recent graduate from Hillcrest High School, took second place and the accompanying $250 prize.
In her essay, Kolsen described the sacrifices people across history in the name of freedom.
“Independence Day seems to me a letter of thanks to each generation brave enough to carry such a dangerous, passionate torch,” Kolsen wrote. “This torch was carried into the War of 1812, through the Industrial Revolution, and was nearly extinguished in the great divide of the Civil War, yet it emerged brighter than before. Its embers lined the toxic trenches of World War I and the devastation of Pearl Harbor. It burned brightly in the heart of each Freedom Rider and in the booming voice of Martin Luther King Jr. as he declared his dream. On September 11, 2001 a group of civilians gave their “last full measure of devotion” in taking down United Airlines Flight 93, while Americans nationwide banded together to light the flame of the rising generation. This is the American courage that each Independence Day marks, and celebrates.”
Henager said the competition received a number of responses and is an encouraging glimpse into America’s future leaders.
“We were thrilled with the enthusiastic response from the community,” Henager said. “Each submission was a unique and impassioned take on the meaning of Independence Day. It’s heartening and humbling to see the depth of appreciation and patriotism Independence Day inspires in each of us, and all the more so when those sharing their experiences are the future leaders of this great nation.”
Steven’s and Kolsen’s full essays can be found below.
McKenna Stevens – 1st Place
As a child, Independence Day was a day of sun, parades, laughs, family, food, fireworks, and most importantly, fun! I didn’t truly understand its purpose or how much this holiday effected my daily life. Although I have always had great respect for my country, it wasn’t until very recently that I found a much deeper love and heartfelt gratitude for my independence and the price that was paid. This appreciation came through a unique experience… one that cannot be taught in a classroom or learned from a movie or textbook. It came, interestingly enough, from a dance.
Just earlier this month, my ballroom dance team and I had the opportunity to dance in New York and Washington D.C. We spent an entire year fundraising and learning routines for this trip. One particular routine was entitled, “American Soldier,” a Latin rumba danced to the popular country song by Toby Keith. The chorus of this song states:
“I will always do my duty—no matter what the price. I’ve counted up the cost. I know the sacrifice. Oh, and I don’t want to die for you, but if dyin’s asked of me, I’ll bear that cross with honor ‘cause freedom don’t come free. I’m an American soldier, an American. I will proudly take a stand. When liberty’s in jeopardy, I will always do what’s right. I’m out here on the front lines. Sleep in peace tonight.”
Our director informed us that this performance would be our tribute to all of those that fought for our country. As we danced, we were told “feel” the lyrics… to be “in character” and play the role of a soldier or wife or mother sending a loved one to war. We were told to imagine what that might feel like as we danced. It was a challenge to express emotions that I had never truly experienced, but I did my best in rehearsals. I had no idea how real those emotions would become to me on our tour.
Our first stop along our tour in Washington D.C. was the Arlington Cemetery. There is nothing that can prepare you for the image of 400,000 graves. The silence stung my soul. Each perfectly aligned gravestone represented a family—grieving parents, fatherless and motherless children, widows. I was overcome with the immense pain that countless families have endured across the years… for me. Suddenly, that morning was not just an ordinary morning. It was a blessing. Each day of freedom and happiness in my life was paid for by someone else. There were thirty new graves being added that day. Thirty more grieving families. Thirty more homes filled with unspeakable sorrow.
Our second stop in Washington D.C. was the Vietnam Memorial—a black, granite wall inscribed with over 58,000 names of those who were killed or went missing in the Vietnam War. This wall stretched over two acres. I walked along it, letting my fingers touch name after name. As I gazed at a particular name, I realized that I could see myself in the reflective granite. My image was a part of the monument. The symbolism spoke to my heart. Each name suddenly became personal to me because I was a part of their sacrifice.
That night, we danced the routines we had been working so hard to prepare. As I stood in front of the World War II Memorial with my dance partner, the music came on and I heard the lyrics, “freedom don’t come free.” Suddenly, there was no need to “act” a part. I was not dancing as a soldier or wife. I was dancing as myself. The feeling of lost became overwhelming as I personally said “Goodbye” to every gravestone and name sketched on that granite wall. I danced every movement with all the love I had in my heart. I danced to honor ever suffering veteran and suffering family.
I left that tour a changed person. This Independence Day will be unlike any other before it. As I laugh and play with family and friends, I will do so knowing that it is a gift. As I attend the parade and see the passing flags, I will do so with true reverence in my heart. I am American. That simple title is an honor, for I know that “freedom don’t come free.”
Camille Kolsen – 2nd Place
On July 4, 1776, fifty-six men put their lives on the proverbial dotted line; with each flick of a signature which signified the living, breathing free will that became the United States of America. Using that same free will, the Founding Fathers overcame their difficulties in order for generations of change to take place. While I may not be a Founding Father, First Lady, or Federalist, by my very existence (as a free woman) with the power to vote, drive, and own land, I am a revolutionary. Across the world, men and women are deprived of the rights which Thomas Jefferson penned as “unalienable.”
The Founding Fathers had a desire to create a nation of free speakers and thinkers just as they were. They saw that tyranny oppresses and fights against the freedom of the individual and their capacity to further change the world. Moving from an empire of tyranny and broken promises was a necessary and important breakaway which also came with difficulties. From an outside perspective, being the first has always been an envied position, yet to create a legacy worthy of following takes more resolve than any individual Founding Father possessed. Thus, the Framers of The Constitution did indeed frame the possibility to gather individuals with their brazen unbridled passion and give sovereignty not just to the people, but to their minds. Great value was found in the unconventional; that a group of people from vastly different backgrounds could offer the generations to come an opportunity to listen and be listened to in educational and progressive environments. Throughout the nation’s creation it quickly became clear that many opinions and ideas would need to work together in order for the country to be successful. The Founding Fathers came together from vastly different backgrounds, both politically and
financially, yet their individual drive for equality and higher quality of life positioned them at a crucial crossroads in American history. Those who came from impoverished beginnings would have died commoners elsewhere. Joseph J. Ellis wrote, “The pressures and exigencies generated by the American Revolution called out and gathered together their talents; no titled and hereditary aristocracy was in place to block their ascent; and no full-blown democratic culture had yet emerged to dull their elitist edge.” This very principle is exactly the torch that our current generation of American youth must carry. Our bond as young Americans derives nothing from a title or an aristocratic culture, but our thriving energy has given us an unquenchable thirst to seal our talents together with our purely American “elitist edge” that none can take away. This is the revolution that must never end; I believe it never will.
Independence Day seems to me a letter of thanks to each generation brave enough to carry such a dangerous, passionate torch. This torch was carried into the War of 1812, through the Industrial Revolution, and was nearly extinguished in the great divide of the Civil War, yet it emerged brighter than before. Its embers lined the toxic trenches of World War I and the devastation of Pearl Harbor. It burned brightly in the heart of each Freedom Rider and in the booming voice of Martin Luther King Jr. as he declared his dream. On September 11, 2001 a group of civilians gave their “last full measure of devotion” in taking down United Airlines Flight 93, while Americans nationwide banded together to light the flame of the rising generation. This is the American courage that each Independence Day marks, and celebrates. The future of the United States has been a topic of controversy in that many do not believe it to be bright. Investor Warren Buffett said recently in a TIME magazine article, “I was born in 1930, when the symbol of American wealth was John D. Rockefeller Sr. Today my upper-middle-class
neighbors enjoy options in travel, entertainment, medicine, and education that were simply not
available to Rockefeller and his family. With all of his riches, John D. couldn’t buy the pleasures
and conveniences we now take for granted.” A bright future is one filled with progress–which is
exactly what the United States has created.
What began in 1776 has snowballed into an evolutionary revolution. Next week, citizens from sea to shining sea will gather to commemorate the birth of this great nation. As my personal commemoration, I remember each day in school where I stated with pride, “I pledge allegiance to the flag, of the United States of America,” and every action I took that was for the benefit of someone other than myself. I will look back with a smile on each decisions I made which wasn’t popular or supported. And yet, things worked out for the better. I’m getting an education, moving forward with my life and have opportunities open to me which were unavailable to women in the past. The freedom for me to make such decisions was paid for with a mix of blood and ink that I can never repay. However, I can pass the torch on to the next generation, and with it, the hope of America’s brightest future.