Vision for the future

Merrimack High student wins VFW speech contest

MERRIMACK – Kaley Jean, a junior at Merrimack High School, was announced as the state winner of the Veterans of Foreign Wars’ Voice of Democracy speech contest at a dinner at the Executive Court in Manchester on Jan. 23.

Her speech, titled "My Vision for America," was selected as the winner over six other district finalists. She was awarded a $1,500 prize and a five-day trip to Washington, D.C., in February, when she will be able to tour the city, attend VFW events and compete in the national level of the contest.

Each year, the VFW submits a topic for the Voice of Democracy speech contest to its local posts, which are charged with recruiting high schools and high school-age students to participate. This year’s topic, "My Vision for America," required participants to write a three- to five-minute speech clarifying their visions for our country, record the speech and submit it to their town’s VFW post.

Jean, an honors student in a new inter­disciplinary course called The American Experience, was one of six MHS students encouraged to participate by their teach­ers. After Jean won the Merrimack level of the contest, her speech advanced to the district level, where her recorded speech went up against the winners from Hud­son, Nashua, Pelham, Milford, Manches­ter and Bedford.

"We are so proud of Kaley," American Experience co-teacher Naomi Halvorson said. "She had a good balance of research and heart in her speech."

At the dinner, 190 VFW members, dignitaries, family, teachers and friends joined in recognizing the seven district finalists. Jean, representing District 6, and the other district winners each received a $150 monetary prize, commemorative backpacks and trophies.

Jean was supported by her mother and father, Sheryl and Brian Jean; Cmdr. Max Quayle, of Merrimack Post 8641, and his wife, Valerie; Stephanie Baron, president of Auxiliary Post 8641; and many other VFW members supporting District 6.

"We were overwhelmed by the support of everyone in attendance at the banquet, especially the members of the Merrimack VFW post who seemed to take Kaley in as their own," Sheryl Jean said. "Kaley was up against a great group of competitors, as all the students were well poised and had some intimidating bios. It was such an exciting evening for all of us, and we couldn’t be more proud of Kaley."