WILMINGTON -- Katrina "Trina" Schell visited her brother, a member of the U.S. Army ROTC at the University of Virginia, in Charlottesville.
A week later, Charlottesville exploded during a rally of white supremacists, leading to a fatalities and the spread of a message of hate and violence.
The news inspired her essay for the VFW Voice of Democracy audio essay contest, entitled "History's Hope Today."
"If you look at this past year and even these past few months, it is clear that there are divisions in our country," 16-year-old Trina's essay said. "We need to address these problems head on and find a solution together. Our differences have been highlighted recently, and, instead of letting these divide us, we need to make this unite us. Our differences are not our downfalls."
She placed first on the statewide level, and will be traveling to Washington, D.C., where she will be up against other contestants for an opportunity to win a $30,000 college scholarship.
Trina's essay she stresses the importance of unity.
"At the time it was when there were a lot of riots happening a lot of things happening at once that were kind of separating," she said. "So I felt that was important at the time to talk about that and not ignore it."
Trina was sponsored by the Tewksbury VFW Post 8164. James Williams, the post's senior vice commander, was not part of the judging, but was moved by Trina's essay.
"I was totally blown out of the water when I walked in one morning and found your essay downstairs in the office," Williams said to Trina. "To me, I barely made it out of Dracut High School and then within 18 months I was filling sandbags in Vietnam. So, we push education because we want better for you."
Last year's state winner was another local resident, Stephanie Tam of Tewksbury.
A sophomore at the Lexington Christian Academy, Trina's parents were impressed by her proactive approach in preparing for a college education. They first listened to Trina's essay about two weeks ago, when they found out she had won.
Trina would not let them listen to it until she was certain it was worthwhile.
"I thought it was really good and I liked the unity thing because even among relatives you get both sides of that. At some point, some of your relatives on Facebook are like, 'Oh my gosh, I can't believe you believe that," said her father, David Schell. "It isn't that hard. We're all Americans. Yeah, you can have a difference of opinion, but at the end of the day we're all American."
Her mother, Kristi Schell, was also impressed with the essay. She recalled her daughter not wanting to go to the ceremony because she thought she had no shot at winning.
As the announcements were made who came in fifth place, fourth place and so on, Trina's jaw dropped when the second-place winner was announced and it wasn't her, her mother said.
"So on the way home I was like, 'I told you we should have come,'" her mother said, laughing.
Trina also has a special connection to the contest. Her paternal grandfather was a colonel in the U.S. Air Force and her uncle also served in the Air Force.
"It makes it feel a little bit more important than if it was just a completely random contest that I entered, so I care more," she said.
Trina's essay emphasized her hope for a future society that takes steps to being a united front. At school, she participates in the debate club, which she said is a way she sees hope.
"We have debates and they're usually current topics. One time, we did kneeling during the national anthem at football games and stuff," she said. "So, I think just the conversations that come up because in the hallways after school we'll get talking about some current event. So, I think having conversations is really important for that."
This will be her third time in D.C. and she said she is looking forward to the trip taking place from March 3-8.
For more information, visit www.vfw.org.
Follow Kori Tuitt on Twitter @KoriTuitt.
Trina Schell, 16, of Wilmington, a sophomore at Lexington Christian Academy, won in the statewide VFW Voice of Democracy scholarship program. With her is James Williams of Tewksbury, senior vice commander of VFW Post 8164 in Tewksbury, at the post. SUN/JULIA MALAKIE
VFW Voice of Democracy web site
VFW Oklahoma is proud to offer the VOICE OF DEMOCRACY essay contest!
Each year, nearly 38,000 high school students from across the country enter to win a share of the $2.2 million in educational scholarships and incentives awarded through the VFW’s Voice of Democracy audio-essay competition.
The VFW established the Voice of Democracy program (VOD) in 1947 to provide students grades 9-12 the opportunity to express themselves in regards to democratic ideas and principles.
The national first-place winner receives a $30,000 scholarship paid directly to the recipient’s American university, college or vocational/technical school. Other national scholarships range from $1,000-$16,000, and the first-place winner from each (state) VFW Department wins a minimum scholarship of $1,000 and an all-expense-paid trip to Washington, D.C.
About the 2016-17 winner…
Savannah Wittman, a senior at Bret Harte High School, was named the 2016-17 Voice of Democracy first-place winner. Savannah’s speech on the theme, “My Vision for America,” won her a $30,000 college scholarship which she plans to apply toward her career in veterinary medicine. Savannah was sponsored by VFW Post 12118 and its Auxiliary in Copperopolis, Calif.
Watch Savannah deliver her speech, read her essay, or see the complete list of 2017 winners.
YOU TOO CAN WIN $30,000!
WHO CAN ENTER
The Voice of Democracy Program is open to students in grades 9-12 (on the Nov. 1 deadline), who are enrolled in a public, private or parochial high school or home study program in the United States and its territories.
HOW TO ENTER
Click here to access the Voice of Democracy 2017 – 18 entry form and brochure.
Ask your teacher if your school is participating. You can still enter if they are or not. If you experience problems with downloading or printing the application, please try to access the entry form using Internet Explorer. If you continue to experience problems, please contact your local Post.
Mail your completed application and recorded speech to your local VFW Post
The 2017-18 theme is:
American History: Our Hope for the Future
Students should record their reading of the draft to an audio CD or flash drive. The recording can be no shorter than three minutes and no longer than five minutes (plus or minus five seconds).
Entries begin at the Post level. Once the student creates their essay and completes burning the audio version to an audio CD/flash drive, they can submit their typed version, CD/flash drive and the Voice of Democracy entry form to their local participating VFW Post by the November 1 deadline.
Originality is worth 30 points: Treatment of the theme should show imagination and human interest.
Content is worth 35 points: Clearly express your ideas in an organized manner. Fully develop your theme and use transitions to move smoothly from one idea to the other.
Delivery is worth 35 points: Speak in a clear and credible manner.