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Winners announced in annual VFW essay contests

The Patriot Pen essay winners at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton School have been announced. Left to right are Tim Sullivan, middle school teacher, Dob Kirtz, Ryan Klein, Mitchell O'Brien, Laura Church, Emily Weldon and Hastings VFW representative Dean Markuson. (Star Gazette photos by Jane Lightbourn)1 / 2
Christina Alongi was the Hastings High School winner in the Patriot Pen essay contest. (Submitted photo)2 / 2

The winners in the annual Voice of Democracy Essay Contest have been selected.

Winners at Hastings High School are Christina Alongi, first; Sarah Zeien, second; Kay Lynn Johnson, third; and Garret Tuin, fourth.

Winners at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton School are Robert C. Kirtz, first; Ryan Klein, second; Mitchell O'Brien, third; Laura Church, fourth; and Emily Weldon, fifth. They have been presented cash prizes.

The Hastings Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 1210 wants to inspire young people to embrace their love of country and get them thinking about what it means to be an American and what it means to serve their country. The Voice of Democracy essay has been the VFW's top scholarship program since 1947.

Students write and record a three- to five-minute essay on the year's theme "Is Our Constitution Still Relevant?" Middle school students in grades six through eight compete in the Patriot's Pen Essay Competition. Students write on the topic, "What I Would Tell America's Founding Fathers."

Post winners advance to district, and then the first place district winner advances to the state competition. All state winners receive a four-day trip to Washington D.C. Awards are received at all levels.

Here are a few of the essays:

Is the Constitution Still Relevant?

by Christina Alongi

"I would not look to the U.S. Constitution if I were drafting a Constitution in the year 2012."

This was said by a United States supreme Court Judge Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

When we think of all the countries of the world we realize the United States is very young, just over two centuries. But our constitution is still one of the oldest. Too old, apparently, given the fact that the United States is becoming increasingly out of sync with evolving global consensus on issues of human rights so says David S. Law and Mila Versteeg's essay, "The Declining Influence of the United States Constitution." But does it make us irrelevant?

Absolutely not.

We'll start by looking at our Constitution's influence on other countries. The exact rate of which the U.S. constitution influences the adoption and revision of other countries remains in speculation. However, the similarity between the United States Constitution and foreign countries drafting new governments were the highest in the 1970s and '80s, but it was after the Cold War during a time when dozens of countries were creating new constitutions, it would've been expected that many of these new governments be modeled after ours. But the '90s saw a shocking decline in the average similarity of Constitution compared with others. Dozens of Central and Eastern European countries called on their Soviet roots and went communists, while African and Asian countries went through a fever of constitutional reform that strayed from us. Whatever constitutional script was being used as an emulated model at the time it wasn't the United States'. Which is incredibly odd, since most of the world considers America to be one of the best countries to live in.

Let's take a look at how the Constitution affects American's lives every day. While there is still a lot of heated argument around whether this or that is constitutional or what exactly that quote means and should we change this piece, we have the undeniable right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. The government cannot torture us, arrest us under false charges, or deny us a trial or defense attorney. We can choose our own religion, we can buy guns and keep them, we can meet in our neighbor's house and complain about how the government sucks all the money from our pockets, we can vote, we can own and protect private property, we can express any message in any way we please, and we're all equal in the eyes of justice, and we have the U.S. Constitution to thank for that.

However, the original Constitution does not give women the right to vote. It does not give the right to unionize or to strike. It allows slavery. It lacks consideration for the physically needy. All these and more had to be added centuries after Benjamin Franklin and George Washington died, and that's a good thing. Our Constitution lets us - encourages us! - to change it in any way that'll improve our lives. They didn't know women or African Americans were as smart and as sensitive as white males in the eighteenth century. When we did, we were able to modify the Constitution and greatly improve the lives of over half the American population. Just imagine what we might discover tomorrow and have to add to the Constitution, something that we couldn't possibly perceive today, but we leave a door open so future generations can make the change. I can see it now. "28th Amendment: Dogs Require a First Grade education."

So with all these changes being added to the Constitution and its decreases in global influence, what part of the Constitution is absolutely one hundred percent relevant today? The answer lies in the Preamble, the prologue to the Constitution, the value sit declares: In order to form a more perfect union," we do love unity, "Establish justice, insure domestic tranquility" and "provide for the common defense show our value of justice, peace and protection. To "promote the general welfare" is to care for our health, and "secure the blessings of liberty" is our freedom.

No matter what the changes we make to the Constitution, it is these core values that are the center, that dictate the Constitution, and that are relevant today.

What I Would Tell the Founding Fathers

by Robert Kirtz

If I had the opportunity to speak with the founding fathers I would take the opportunity to thank them for creating the Constitution. The constitution, with very few changes, guided our government through more than 200 years. The Constitution is flexible, but still provides firm guidelines. It is a main reason that this country has pulled ahead of other countries. One of the important guidelines provides for a clear balance of power to prevent any one branch from monopolizing the government. In fact, many governments have attempted to imitate our constitution to create effective governing documents for their countries.

The Constitution of the United States is the oldest constitution document still in use. It was created to be flexible enough to adjust to the changes that have occurred, but firm enough that it cannot simply be change in favor of group or person. Including the Bill of Rights, there has been only 27 amendments to the Constitution out of approximately 10,000 attempted amendments. It has stood the test of time and still successfully guides our government.

One principle that makes our constitution so successful is the system of checks and balances that prevents only one branch of the government from gaining absolute power. For example, the President may not send armed forces and declare war for more than 60 days without the consent of the Congress. The Congress has the power to impeach a president for "treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors" and the supreme Court has the power to declare laws unconstitutional.

The U.S. Constitution is a short document, only 7591 words long, but it is respected around the globe. In fact the leaders of many other countries have studies our constitution. For example, Benito Juarez, the president of Mexico from 1858 to 1861, who took some of the basic rights in the Bill of Rights and included them in the Mexican Constitution of 1824.

The Constitution has allows this country to run efficiently from its creation to the president day with very few modifications. We are lucky that the Founding Fathers had the foresight to create a set of principles that is both flexible and firm that keeps most of the power of the government in the hands of the people through elected officials. If I could say one thing to the founding fathers, it would be "Thank You."