This year’s Patriots Pen and Voice of Democracy awards presentation, which took place Jan. 8, was a smaller event than in past years, according to Bob Farrell, who handles events and information for VFW Post 5277. As with many events, the cause was COVID-19. However, Farrell expressed the belief that next year’s ceremony will be a return to those of years before COVID descended upon the world.

However, as in past years, certain aspects of the ceremony remained unchanged: the recognition of several teachers who have had a positive influence on their students in re: civics, and the awarding of the top three entries submitted by students on democracy.

Although this year’s field was small, three students, one from Imagine South Lake Charter, another from East Ridge High School, and the third homeschooled, were recognized as the top submissions, with two tied for first place, eliminating the necessity of there being a third place.

The three winners were tasked with reading their essays, beginning with the first of the two top winners, Ariella Rudolph (from Imagine), who had chosen as her theme the importance of being a good American.

Moriah Langford (ERHS), the other first place winner, spoke about the importance of both looking back at the past as well as the toward the future, and the importance of embracing history, not erasing it.

The second place winner, Emily Lininger, was a winner of the competition for the second time Farrell announced before she was invited to read from her essay. In her presentation, Lininger acknowledged that while America is not perfect, nor is it as imperfect as many promote it as being, and cited several examples of matters currently taking place in this country. She reminded the audience of Benjamin Franklin’s quote, that people who sacrifice freedom for security end up with neither. 

One of the three teachers designated for honor, Jasmin Cruz, was unable to attend due to a family situation related to COVID, while of the remaining two, one was a late arrival. However, when he arrived, accompanied with his wife, attempting to be as inconspicuous as possible it was not to be, as he was garbed in his U.S. Marine Corp dress uniform. It was a striking sight for many present.

John Plyont Jr., who leads a JROTC program at South Lake High School, had earlier attended the funeral for a retired chief petty officer, accompanied by cadets, to provide the proper military funeral service. That statement drew applause and appreciation from those present when he was invited to accept a plaque and make a presentation.

Prior to Plyont speaking, was Becky Lee, who teaches 7-year-olds. Having a knowledge and a love of country is important, because it is at the formative ages when learning civics, she said.

“I teach them you live in the greatest place in the world,” Lee said.

Plyont, a 20-year U.S. Marine Corp veteran, flew an F-18 and also saw duty in 2012 during Operation Iraqi Freedom, for which he was greeted with applause, along with the fact that there currently are 150 cadets in the program.

“We talk about the veterans of the World War Two generation as being the ‘Greatest Generation,’” he said, but it doesn’t end there, he continued. The cadets under his auspices, as well as elsewhere have displayed a love of country, to which he has no doubt that should it ever arise, that they, as well as many other Americans, will pull together. “I have no doubt they are the ‘Next Greatest Generation.’”

There was one final round of applause for him, this one on a lighter note. He was asked about his uniform. His response was he is the same size today as he was in 1990, when he was first fitted.

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