In 1946, the National Association of Broadcasters began sponsoring an annual speech competition for high school students. This Voice of Democracy competition was run with the help of the VFW, and offered prizes for speeches that were well conceived and well delivered. Each year, four regional winners were selected and awarded a $500 savings bond and a wristwatch.
In 1960, the National Association of Broadcasters decided it could no longer sponsor the program on a national basis, so the VFW assumed sole sponsorship of it. With its network of 10,000 posts and 8,000 Auxiliaries, the VFW was soon able to make the competition a truly nationwide undertaking. By 1974, Edward Burnham, then Director of the Voice of Democracy (VOD) Program, noted that each year students from some 7500 public and parochial high schools were taking part in the VOD program.
Today, the Voice of Democracy competition is open to high school sophomores, juniors, and seniors across the country. Each contestant is required to write and record a three to five minute script on the subject selected as that year's topic. Some past topics have included "What Freedom Means to Me," "Freedom's Challenge," "My Responsibility as a Citizen," "New Horizons for America's Youth," and "Why I Am Proud of America." The recordings are then judged at post or school, district, and state levels. Winners at each level receive prizes and recognition. State winners are given an all-expense paid trip to Washington, D.C., where the final judging and awards presentation take place.
During their five-day stay in Washington, the state winners visit many sights, including the Smithsonian, Mount Vernon, the White House, the Library of Congress, and Arlington National Cemetery. Throughout these tours, the VOD participants are highly visible, each wearing a special jacket awarded by the VFW. Most often, these jackets are decorated with Commander's Pins from each of the VFW's departments. Each department gives its participant enough of that year's pins to trade with the other fifty-four contestants.
At the end of their visit, the state winners are guests of honor at the VFW's Congressional Banquet. Each winner is introduced individually, and seated at the head table with fifty dignitaries from the VFW, the armed forces, the federal government, and the Ladies Auxiliary. During this program, the names of the winners are announced. Each of the national winners receives his or her award, and then the first-place winner delivers his or her winning speech.
Prizes currently total $60,000, and consist of scholarships of $18,000 for the first place winner, $13,000 for second place, $9,000 for third place,$5,500 for fourth, $4,000 for fifth, $3,000 for sixth,$2,000 for seventh, $1,500 for eighth, and $1,000 for ninth places through twelfth places.
After their return home, the state winners are invited to take another all-expense paid trip, this time to the Academy of Achievement. This unique California-based program selects a different city each year in which to hold its seminar. The winners' three-day trip is normally paid for by the sponsoring departments. While at the Academy, the VOD winners, together with several hundred other academically gifted students, attend symposiums led by some of the nation's leaders in business, entertainment, art, sports, and government. VFW participation in the Academy of Achievement started in 1972.
Throughout the history of the VOD competition, there have been many
notable winners, including television journalist Charles Kuralt, singer/activist Anita
Bryant, actress/TV personality Mariette Hartley, and John Ashcroft, the present Governor
of Missouri. Since the VFW began sponsoring the Voice of Democracy competition, over 6
million students have participated, and awards totaling more than $6 million in
scholarships, savings bonds, and other prizes have been given winners at the various
© VFW 1998 . Created by Lynn - Last Updated 29 Dec 2001