Natasha Alvarado, a senior at Mercy High School, San Francisco, was named state champion of the Voice of Democracy Speech Contest, in Sacramento on Jan. 18 and 19.
Voice of Democracy, sponsored by the Veterans of Foreign Wars, Department of California, featured 13 students from 17 VFW districts across the state. Natasha represented District 10 and competed at the state level last year after winning her first district title.
Natasha was awarded $2,000, a VFW jacket, and plaque and certificate. She also receives an all-expenses paid trip to Washington D.C. to compete for the national title from March 3-7.
“This is incredible because basically it was my dream since last year - it’s been my goal to win the state this year,” Natasha said. “I achieved one of my primary goals and that felt really great. I’m just very thankful to the Veterans of Foreign Wars organization because of all they do and they are incredibly benevolent and I can’t express how incredibly grateful I am for all that they’ve done for our country.”
Contest participants submit an essay and voice recording of themselves reading the essay. Natasha also presented the essay during the contest to more than 300 people.
Natasha's essay is titled "American History: Our Hope for the Future" and focuses on the importance of maintaining the memories of veterans and heroes. Her primary theme was the red poppy, which is known by veterans as the remembrance poppy and is very significant to the VFW as a symbol for remembering service members killed in action.
Her essay was also guided and inspired by her cousin’s husband - a retired veteran who served as a corporal in the Marine Corps and was wounded in combat. She interviewed the corporal and incorporated some of his experiences into the essay.
“I learned the significance of the red poppy last year when I competed and so I really wanted to incorporate it into my speech this year," Natasha said. “I used an extended metaphor to basically maintain that theme throughout the essay. I talked about the red poppy and how it was incorporated into our history and then I talked about how we must first look to the pedals, and then the stem, and then the roots, and for each one I indicated exactly what I was going to be talking about. That was sort of my road map to add creativity.”
Natasha's coach, Nicole Wong, who is also the Speech and Debate Director at Mercy, said the senior has spent countless hours preparing for the contest. Natasha is the fourth Mercy student to compete at the VFW's national competition. Sophomore Danielle Hayes won the national title in 2013.
"It's amazing to watch Natasha and see how she's really been transformed as a person through this process of preparation and competition," Wong said. "I'm very happy that Natasha is able to reap the rewards of her hard work and I'm excited to watch her compete in Washington D.C."