State Rep. Tricia Farley-Bouvier with VFW Commander Arnold Perras and scholarship winners Hannah Berkel, left, Kailey Sultaire and Kathrine Wilson.
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 448 recognized three Berkshire County high school students who composed essays on the importance of voting.
Dozens attended the award ceremony Monday held at the American Legion building banquet hall where a combined $2,950 in scholarships were given out to Hannah Berkel, Kailey Sultaire, and Kathrine Wilson.
"We are very proud of you and we placed high-qualifying standards on the recipients of these awards because we believe the winners will have high visibility in the community and will serve as role models," Arnold Perras, commander of VFW Post 448 said. "All of you are a credit to your school and your community you should be very proud of your accomplishments."
The Voice of Democracy has been a VFW scholarship program since 1947 and each year nearly 50,000 high school students compete for more than $2.3 million in scholarships.
Students write and record an audio essay to be considered by VFW judges. This year's theme was "Why My Vote Matters."
Perras said the amount each student received is based on the size of the different VFW posts.
Before hearing the three speeches, state Rep. Tricia Farley-Bouvier said that although who you vote for is private, the fact that you voted is not and elected officials, lobbyists, and other groups use this information.
She said typically young people do not vote as much as the elderly and older adults so politicians have in the past catered to the wants of these groups, however, now that younger people are taking to the polls in higher numbers, things are changing.
"Younger people are voting at a greater rate than ever and young people want access to higher education, they want it to be affordable, and they don't want to be buried in debt," she said. "They care about the environment and they see it as an emergency."
Before turning the podium over to the students, Farley-Bouvier said she was inspired by the essays.
"Your words have obviously touched many people the way that you put your thoughts together and your message that you wanted to gift to the rest of us means a great deal," she said.
Sultaire, a Taconic High School student, received a $1,150 scholarship and said no single vote is insignificant and it is dangerous to have such an idea run rampant through society.
"We can't allow the idea of us being an insignificant number at the polling station permeate through our society," she said. "If that idea that my vote doesn't matter spreads throughout the country, our voting numbers are going to drop and only a select group of people will have control."
Wilson, of Mount Greylock Regional High School in Williamstown, was awarded $1,300. Wilson said she was born in another country with restrictive voting and that as an expatriate saw firsthand the uniqueness of America and the importance of voting.
"As Americans, we all have the right to register to vote equally," she said. "The rich man's vote counts just as much as the poorest church mouse and that, ladies and gentleman of the Veterans of Foreign Wars, is democracy at work."
Berkel of Pittsfield High School received a $500 scholarship and said she is not yet of age to vote and is often disappointed when her peers reach the age of 18 and decide they do not want to vote.
"It is extremely important that the younger generation vote. They need to think about their future along with their children's future," she said. "They need to think about how their voice matters ... if there is something they care about they must make their voice heard and the best way for them to do it is to cast a vote."
Farley-Bouvier said there is currently a bill that she supports that would allow communities to chose if they would allow high school students to vote at local elections.
"Students could vote for who is on the school committee. It's a no-brainer: They are making decisions that affect your lives," she said. "If students get used to voting early then we believe they will continue the habit."
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