"Why I'm optimistic about our nation's future" is the theme of this year's Voice of Democracy Patriotic Audio Essay Competition sponsored by the Veterans of Foreign Wars of the United States and its Ladies Auxiliary. The grand prize is a $30,000 scholarship.

Townsend VFW Post #6538 and its Ladies Auxiliary and Pepperell VFW Post #3291 and its Ladies Auxiliary are co-sponsoring the program at North Middlesex Regional High School, Lunenburg High School and Nashoba Valley Technical High School. The program is open to any Massachusetts student in grades nine through twelve. Young people who attend schools where the program is not being conducted by a VFW Post and/or its Ladies Auxiliary or who are enrolled in an approved home school program may enter the Townsend-Pepperell program by submitting their entry to Townsend VFW Post Chairman Russell Jobe, Townsend VFW Auxiliary Chairman Betty Mae Tenney, Pepperell VFW Post Chairman Robert Connolly, Jr. or Pepperell VFW Auxiliary Chairman Fay McChristian.

The Voice of Democracy Program is designed to foster patriotism by giving high school students the opportunity to voice their opinion about their personal obligations as an American and address their responsibilities to our control while they compete for awards, prizes and college scholarship monies.

The winner of the Townsend-Pepperell contest will receive $150 in cash. The second place winner will be awarded $100, while the third place winner will receive $50.

The local first place winning entry will be entered into the District #15 level of competition where cash prizes will be awarded to the winning contestants. Additional top scoring local entries will be entered into the District #15 level of judging for each additional 15 entries received at the local level. The District's first place winning entry will be entered into the state competition where the top five winners will each receive a scholarship and a cash prize.

The winner of the Department of Massachusetts VFW and its Ladies Auxiliary Voice of Democracy competition will receive a $2,000 scholarship, a $500 check and an all-expense paid trip to Washington, D.C. in March 2014. While there, the Massachusetts winner will join the winners of the other 53 departments to tour the city, meet our nation's leaders, be honored by the VFW and its Ladies Auxiliary and receive a portion of the $152,000 in national scholarship monies. The department winners will also be invited to the Freedoms Foundation at Valley Forge's Youth Conference in June 2014 to renew friendships with other department winners and learn more about America's history.

The national winner will receive a $30,000 scholarship and an all-expense paid trip to St. Louis, Missouri for the VFW National Convention in July 2014.

The National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP) has again approved the Voice of Democracy Contest for its National Advisory List of Contests and Activities.

To enter the Voice of Democracy competition, each contestant must write his/her essay on "Why I'm Optimistic About Our Nation's Future" and then record it on a standard audio cassette tape or a CD, taking not less than three minutes or more than five minutes. The script as read by the student should be the only sound on the tape or CD. No music, special effects or background sounds will be allowed.

The recording will be judged on originality (30 percent), content (35 percent) and delivery (35 percent), Treatment of the theme should show imagination and human interest. The ideas should be clearly expressed in an organized manner. The contestant should speak in a clear and credible manner.

Participants cannot identify themselves, their school, city or state within their written essay or recording. However, they should label their recording and their neatly typed essay to alleviate any confusion over the ownership of the entry. Their name, address and school should be listed on the 2013-2014 Official Voice of Democracy Entry Form which is attached to their typed essay. 

Entrants should play their audio CD on a system other than their computer, such as a standard radio or car CD player, before submitting their entry to ensure that those judging it will be able to listen to it on their CD player.

All recorded entries, accompanied by a typed copy of the script and a completed official entry form, must be submitted to a Townsend or Pepperell Voice of Democracy Chairman by Friday, Nov. 1.