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Teens essays impress Manteca veterans
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Conrad Sylvester will be awarded a $100 scholarship tonight at the Jimmie Connors VFW Post 6311 dinner and meeting. Sylvester was a finalist in the Voice of Democracy competition. - photo by Photo Contributed

For Conrad Sylvester, they are more than just words jotted on a page or recited into a recorder. 

They are a blueprint, a source of inspiration and a reminder of a soldier’s enduring sacrifice.

His essays, both written and recorded, didn’t net the 17-year-old senior the grand prize in the Voice of Democracy regional scholarship competition, but they did win the favor of a local troop of veterans.

And for that reason, Sylvester won’t head off to college empty-handed.

The Jimmie Connors VFW Post 6311 will award Sylvester with a certificate of achievement and scholarship after he was named a finalist in the Voice of Democracy, a scholarship competition sponsored by the Veterans of Foreign Wars.

Since 1947, the Voice of Democracy has been the VFW’s preeminent scholarship competition, awarding high school students across the country with $2.1 million in scholarships and other incentives. 

The competition features two parts: a written essay and audio essay, recorded on CD or tape. Each essay is centered on a patriotic theme. This year, the prompt was: Why veterans are important to our nation’s history and future.

A member of Venture Academy’s Brainworx, a college prep program, Sylvester was the only resident of Manteca represented in the pool of 15 finalists. He ultimately finished third and will not advance to the state or national rounds.

Still, his keen sense of military figures, past and present, and the unique sacrifices they have made to protect our freedoms resonated with the leadership at Post 6311.

In his written essay, Sylvester identified: Joseph Plumb Martin, who served as a teenager in the Revolutionary War and later worked as a teacher; Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain, a member of the 20th Maine Infantry during the Battle of Gettysburg and later a four-time elect as Maine’s governor; and Air Force firefighter Ellis Archerda, who advocates for veterans’ rights. 

“He spoke mostly about learning from previous and current veterans coming back and what they might contribute to the United States and our freedoms,” said Lee Herren, quartermaster for the Jimmie Connors Post 6311. “It’s about what they’ve done and what they will do. It’s like the old adage, the one a lot of us old veterans like to recite, ‘Freedom is not free.’”

And neither is college.

That’s why the post has invited Sylvester and his family to their monthly potluck dinner and meeting tonight. Herren said the post felt compelled to recognize Sylvester’s work, even if their token of appreciation pales in comparison to the Voice of Democracy’s winning prize.

A scholarship in hand, though, is a scholarship in hand.

Led by Post Commander Carlon Perry, Jimmie Connors Post 6311 will present Sylvester with a $100 scholarship ahead of tonight’s meeting at the American Legion Hall on East Yosemite Avenue. 

“We feel obligated and happy to support him,” Herren said. “To say, ‘Job well done.’”

The money will help Sylvester chase his dreams.

The 17-year-old has applied to five universities. So far, he’s received an acceptance letter from Cal State Stanislaus in Turlock. Where ever he goes, Sylvester plans to major in U.S. History with hopes of plying that degree in the area of education.

“Instructor Sylvester” has a nice ring, but his mother Cindi Sylvester says before he dives into the classroom he’ll don another cap. That of a soldier.

Sylvester has expressed, with conviction, an interest in ROTC and serving his country in some capacity. 

“This is a passion for him,” Cindi Sylvester said. “This is something he really, really wants to do.”