BROOKSVILLE — Jessica Garrett came up a big winner in the recent Voice of Democracy contest sponsored by the Veterans of Foreign Wars.
Jessica won second place at the state level with her audio essay, "Unwrapped Gifts: Service and Sacrifice." The 17-year-old Nature Coast Technical High School senior took home a $2,000 scholarship along with $275 from the VFW Ladies Auxiliary.
It all began when Jessica's mother, Jody Garrett, spotted an advertisement for the contest and encouraged Jessica to enter. Her father, Richard Garrett, supported the idea. "I wouldn't have done the competition if it wasn't for them," Jessica said.
The theme of the contest, "How America's Veterans Influence Today's Youth," appealed to her.
"I've always been interested in world news and politics," she said, "and I've always appreciated the military. I think it's because I've always paid attention to what's been going on. I've always had very strong opinions. It was just natural for me to appreciate them from the way I was brought up."
The first step toward the state-level honor was a win at the local VFW Post 9236. That included a $500 award. Then she won first place in the district and $250 more. Hernando district VFW posts sent her to Orlando for the state contest and paid for her stay at the Regal Sun Resort.
Jessica said the judging was part content and part presentation. In her essay, she described how many sacrifices the men and women in the military have made to protect the freedoms of all Americans.
"I cannot personally thank all of the courageous and dedicated people who have given my generation all of the unwrapped, beautiful gifts that we have received," she wrote. "I will try to thank them every day by doing my part to support their efforts and to help whenever I can."
Jessica said that while she had a brother in the Air Force for a while, she hasn't had any personal stories of loss. She took a different approach to her essay than some more deeply touched participants.
"I think I learned to appreciate (the military) without having that kind of experience," she said. "One of the greatest gifts you've ever been given is freedom. Veterans don't hear 'thank you' enough for what they do, and I think they may not think youth appreciate them."
Jessica will graduate at the end of this school year and plans to attend Valencia Community College in Orlando to study journalism and political science. The competition, she said, has made her even more intrigued by politics.
After community college, she plans to move to Washington, D.C., to attend George Washington University.