Elena Dunn, a junior at Buena Vista High School, received fifth place in the Colorado Veterans of Foreign Wars annual Voice of Democracy speech contest.
Her essay-length answer was to a question that’s as timely now as ever: “Is this the country the Founding Fathers envisioned?”
The Voice of Democracy speech competition was established in 1947 by the Veterans of Foreign Wars for students grades 9-12.
For the competition, Dunn was required to write a 3-5 minute essay (hers was 5 minutes long, she said), and create an audio recording of her delivering the speech.
Dunn’s interest in the contest was initially piqued by the offer of a $30,000 scholarship, but upon reading further, she realized “Wow, that’s actually something I think about a lot.
“I think especially during a time like a pandemic, I think our country is starting to need to be more careful that we make sure that this country stays the way the founding fathers saw it, because some things have happened of late that have been not-so-good for us,” Dunn said.
As Dunn phrased it in her speech: “For several generations, we have been thoughtful, brave guardians of freedom, both here and around the world. But of late, we are veering onto the path of self-destruction that the Founding Fathers foresaw and took deliberate measures to protect against.”
When it came to putting pen to paper, it wasn’t difficult to start writing the speech, Dunn said. “It’s a topic I already have a lot of opinions about, so I just had to let my passion come through, but in a more controlled way.”
Still, in researching the essay and fine-tuning the language, Dunn said she worked on the 5-minute piece for a month “to get it to where I wanted it to be.
“I think the Founding Fathers are cool, and enjoyed learning a lot more about them and their thought processes,” Dunn said.
Dunn’s speech was chosen to advance to the district level, then to the state level of the competition.
In the state round, Dunn finished fifth, earning her a $5,000 scholarship.
“I would like to work in a field where I can do a lot of thinking and express what I think, whether it be about politics or something more abstract,” Dunn said. “I like to think, and I like to tell people about what I think.”
The statewide winner of the contest was Shreya P. Krishnan of Monument, while the winner of the nationwide contest was Shruthi Kumar of Omaha, Neb.
By Elena Dunn
“WE THE PEOPLE of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”
Is this the country our Founding Fathers envisioned?
For several generations, we have been thoughtful, brave guardians of freedom, both here and around the world.
But of late, we are veering onto the path of self-destruction that the Founding Fathers foresaw and took deliberate measures to protect against.
In 1787, the Founding Fathers met in Philadelphia to create the new U.S. Constitution. This document was created to allocate power to a national government, but only very specific powers.
For instance, it specified the separation of powers among three branches of government and ensured that no branch could be more powerful than the other two.
Four years later, the states ratified a Bill of Rights to protect the rights of the individual. The Founding Fathers had a strong vision for their central government:
It is meant to exist for the people: to serve, protect, and answer to them.
Patrick Henry said, “The Constitution is not a document for the government to restrain the people: it is an instrument for the people to restrain the government.”
Right now, several of our nation’s founding principles are at stake:
A prominent example is the threat to abolish the Electoral College.
This system is key to making America a republic, rather than a democracy-- a foundation upon which the Founding Fathers were quite adamant.
A republic is based in representation, while a pure democracy creates mob rule.
The Founding Fathers put the Electoral College in place to protect against the tyranny of the majority, as Alexis de Tocqueville called it.
If we switch to popular-vote-based elections, minority voices (for example, those in the less-populous states) will cease to be heard.
Recently, some of our political leaders have taken several actions that fly in the face of the Founding Fathers’ goal of ensuring domestic tranquility.
The call to defund the police robs our citizens of their right to be secure in their daily lives. The same could be said for our negligence of border security.
We cannot provide for the common defense of our people without maintaining our borders. Furthermore, we cannot uphold Patrick Henry’s vision of the American people’s ability to restrain the government if the people aren’t allowed to arm themselves.
Benjamin Franklin said, “Never trust a government that doesn’t trust its own citizens with guns.” The ability to defend oneself is crucial to our country’s philosophy of equal opportunity.
And its noxious cloud will obscure the horizons of hope without the guarantee of security within our borders.
In addition, the emergence of “cancel culture” violates the first amendment on our Bill of Rights.
The Founding Fathers knew that our country could not survive if people cannot express contradictory opinions.
George Washington said, “If the freedom of speech is taken away then dumb and silent we may be led, like sheep to the slaughter.”
Both domestically and worldwide, people have been silenced since Washington warned us with those prescient words.
Our military has given their lives to protect the right of self expression. As Evelyn Beatrice Hall said, “I may disagree with what you say, but I shall defend to the death your right to say it.”
I implore the media to cease the selective ignoring and even silencing of disparate voices and to uphold the diversity of thought that America values to the death.
We the People deserve the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.
On many fronts, though, our country has served the Founding Fathers’ vision well. In 1800, we became the first country in history to have a peaceful transfer of power.
Our system of free enterprise has made us known to the world as the Land of Opportunity. We work hard to protect individual rights, and to prevent our government from growing to the point where it can infringe upon those rights.
We have shared our value of liberty with the world by fighting to rid it of tyranny, from dictatorships to communist regimes.
Right now, however, we need to take steps to ensure the preservation of America’s beauty and greatness.
We must preserve our institutions as created by the Founding Fathers, maintain the Electoral College, and hold our politicians accountable to the people they serve.
Most importantly, we must fight against the claims that America is inherently and systemically flawed.
America, as I see it, is a place where people can be who they want to be. The USA is the embodiment of freedom, and each generation must work to preserve that freedom and not let our nation fall into the downward spiral of tyranny.
I believe we will stay on the Founding Fathers’ path if we always remember the words of John Adams: “You will never know how much it cost my generation to preserve your freedom.
I hope you will make good use of it.”