Three national winners and six honorable-mention honorees were named in Modern Woodmen of America’s 2017 School Speech Contest.
- First place: Madeline Becker, an eighth-grade student at Glenwood Middle School in Glenwood, Iowa.
- Second place: Lily Hilt, an eighth-grade student at St. Thomas More Middle School in Rapid City, South Dakota.
- Third place: Sofia Santiago, a seventh-grade student at Our Lady Queen of Martyrs School in New York City.
The students who received honorable mentions in the national contest are:
- Anil Gordon, Fayetteville, North Carolina.
- Kayana Adlam, Orlando, Florida.
- Zoe Eineichner, East Troy, Wisconsin.
- Winona West, Hubert, North Carolina.
- Julia Perconti, Hancock, Maine.
- Ally Long, Rutledge, Tennessee
The topic for this year’s nationwide contest was “What does it mean to be a hero?” Student speakers were encouraged to consider what characteristics define a hero, how they define heroic behavior, who their heroes are and how heroes are depicted in literature and film.
Becker peppered her speech with fairytale imagery: “What unites heroes is that they don’t just sit in a tower waiting for someone to save them. Instead, they go out and create positive change in the world.” Volunteers, she argued, are real-life heroes, saving various groups in need without expecting anything in return. “[Volunteers] show us that selflessness, kindness and love are the roads that lead to a happily ever after,” she concluded.
Hilt also shared an inspirational message about an individual’s power: “You, me, and everyone can choose to be a hero.” She expounded on these themes, explaining the value of volunteerism and everyday acts of kindness, and she shared examples of heroes throughout history who saved others amid challenging and unexpected circumstances.
Santiago used her speech to describe her mother’s strength and sacrifices following a family emergency. When Santiago was a child, her father was struck by a car and left with permanent brain damage, a shattered leg and complete memory loss. Her mother worked tirelessly to help him regain his memory and motor control, while cheering for his victories. Santiago concluded, “[My mother] has always said, ‘Your father is my hero.’ … Just like a hero would say.”
The School Speech Contest, one of five youth educational programs sponsored by Modern Woodmen, is provided to schools across the country at no charge. For more than 65 years, students have gained confidence and improved their communication skills by participating in this contest. More than 71,000 young people competed in 2017.
Modern Woodmen serves members for life. The tax-exempt fraternal benefit society offers life insurance, annuity and investment* products to improve the quality of life of its members, their families and their communities. In turn, members make an impact through social, educational and volunteer activities. In 2016, Modern Woodmen and its members provided $21.7 million and 562,388 volunteer hours for community projects nationwide.
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