Brandon Nims of Sebeka took first place in the Elmer Goche VFW Post 3922 Voice of Democracy essay contest.

This year's question for area students was "Is This the Country the Founders Envisioned?"

Brandon placed first at Sebeka and was awarded a certificate and $150. His first place prize at the Post was a certificate and $250. His essay has been sent to VFW Sixth District for further judging, according to Ruth Clark, Elmer Goche VFW Post 3922 Patriotic Essay Chair.

Read on to see how Brandon answered the question.

"Why do we dream? From the lucid moments of our sleep to the staring out the window -- visions of something better than what we have now, I believe that when we dream, it is to climb the mountain without looking down. So that we can speak the things we need to say, or declare, to the oppressors and the bullies that chase us through life. In reality, it does not negate the fear of repercussions, but it gives us courage in the face of impossible odds.

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Years ago, our founding fathers were faced with impossible odds. The global super-power Great Britain refused to give the colonies a voice in government. We were undervalued, overlooked, and there was no chance of us being anything but what King George III decided we should be. Then, though, our founders had a vision. The kind that comes with that stomach-turning, nervous feeling. The kind that excites you at the opportunities while making you scared of the reaction people will give you. The kind you have to act on anyway, even if the threat of death hangs above your head.

When the founding fathers were united under this vision, it gave them a reason beyond themselves to stand up. The “who, what, where, and when” didn’t matter, because they had their “why.” This vision showed them where to aim their weapons in the revolution and where to write on the constitution. It guided them through everything they did.

In the years since, other Americans have also shared this vision. Everyone has had a different way of saying it and describing it, but for me, these ideas have always been represented in the image of the American Flag. Our flag acts as this guidepost for, which I believe, all Americans should look up to and follow.

It has bright stars shining on a peaceful blue background so no matter where you go, no matter what bully torments you, shuts you down, or threatens you, you know that you are not alone. That you are never alone. You can look above and see those stars and know you are united with the past, present, and future in the strive for this vision. It also holds stripes, paths to the stars.

To me, the white symbolizes the purity and value of these dreams, for they are not to darken and oppress lives but to brighten and uplift them. This part of the flag says that people who would normally be killed or persecuted for who they are can follow this and be given opportunities that they didn’t have before. It isn’t muddied in the conflicting and sometimes confusing day to day politics that we face. Its principles transcend states, territories, races, and religions. The dream is not “Liberty and justice for this specific group”; it is liberty and justice for all. That’s what I think of when I see those white stripes.

I also see, right beside those bright values, stripes of red, the color of blood and passion. When I see that I know that those ideals are supported not only by the hard work and passion of American citizens, but the sacrifices of those who served. When I see red, I see my teachers, I see the past of my family, and the future of my friends. I see First Responders. I see the Veterans of Foreign Wars. I also see sleepless nights without loved ones. I see battles with mental health and PTSD; I see a lot of graves. To all those who have served our country who are listening, even if I don’t get the opportunity to say it face-to-face and shake your hand, thank you. Even if you think you are invisible and insignificant, I want you to know that I see you. I see you every day in those red stripes. Thank you for your service.

That flag and everything it represents is, to me, the American dream. It is the vision of our founding fathers and everything that it represents is what I believe makes this country great.

This brings us to the question “Is this the country the founders envisioned?” Sure we still have the flag above us, but do its principles still guide us in day-to-day life? A lot of people would likely say “no.” A lot of people who I asked this question said “no.” They pointed to this past year and a lot of the things they said were fair points.

But I can’t agree with them. To do so wouldn’t be right to what is in my heart. The truth is that we have faced a lot of challenges these past years. But as I watch fellow Americans put their lives on the line for one another and work together despite their differences, I see it. I see the vision of our founders alive.

When I started, I wondered why I was so passionate about writing this. I didn’t know then, but I do now. I had to tell you that I believe in the American dream. I believe in the vision our founders laid out for us, the U.S. No matter what others say, I look at that flag and I understand this is the country our founders envisioned.

Thank you."