The meaning of patriotism: Winning essays from Eagle County high school graduates |

The meaning of patriotism: Winning essays from Eagle County high school graduates

Larry Cavanaugh waves an American Flag as Janet films two F-16 fighter planes fly over Vail in May 2020.
Chris Dillmann/

Editor’s note: Each year, graduating high school seniors in Eagle County can apply for a scholarship from the VFW Post in Minturn by writing an essay on patriotism. The Vail Daily is running a sampling of essays, with permission from the authors, ahead of the July 4 holiday.

Kaiya Kelly, Eagle Valley High School

To me, patriotism means loyalty, bravery and protection. Growing up in a family full of military members, I feel like I can say that I understand the military.

For me, the military has always protected what our country stands for and those who live in it. And that is why I say that, to me, patriotism means loyalty to me. I mean, heck, both my parents served in the Navy. They even met each while they were serving. And every time we talk about what it was like for them serving, they always say it with nostalgia and fondness.

To me, patriotism means protection. The military, to me, has always stood as a strong force that protects us against the injustice and the conflict in the world. Men and women serve everyday in the country or even overseas and I think that what they do is so brave and protective and super loyal that they want to serve our country.

I believe that the military is a strong force that can benefit us greatly, which is why I think patriotism is such an integrated part for the function of our great country. Patriotism is something that we need more of more than anything. Between bravery, loyalty and protectiveness, our country just screams we are strong and we can fight for what is right for our country. I want other people to understand that patriotism is not just something that our country has gained over time, it is something that our country was founded on.

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The Revolutionary War was all about patriotism. We wanted a country that would stand for what we believe in. A country that would protect us and be loyal to its people and their opinions. And our country does successfully represent that, I mean we did win the war against Britain and now we are one of the strongest independent countries in the world.

Patriotism is something that is ingrained into this country’s foundation, which is why I think so highly of it. I just want you to understand that patriotism is all of these things: loyalty, bravery and protection. These are the ideals that our country was founded upon. Protection for our religions and our families. Loyalty to our ideals and to the people’s opinions. And having enough bravery to stand up and fight for our rights and our freedoms.

The Colors are presented during the annual Memorial Day ceremony at Freedom Park in Edwards.
Chris Dillmann/

Alden Pennington, Battle Mountain High School

In the film, “Saving Private Ryan”, set during World War II, a young man who goes by the name James Ryan, and his three brothers, Daniel, Sean, and Peter, serve at different stations during World War II. Early in the film, you find out that James Ryan’s three brothers have all been killed in battle very early on, which leaves James Ryan as the only son his mother has left. One general hears of this news and “orders Ryan found and brought home” so that his mother doesn’t lose all of her children to the war.

There are Americans all over the country that know the story of Private Ryan all too well, my family included. My grandfather served as a corporal in the Marine Corps during World War II. He served as a tank driver stationed in Okinawa Japan. While he was away serving, his mother grew ill with terminal cancer.

My grandfather’s dad called generals and government leaders to try and get him home before his mother died, but had no luck. His mother passed while he was gone, and he did not return home until a year later.

When he arrived, he was informed of his mother’s passing and was struck by this horrifying news. He received none of the letters or messages that his father tried to get to him. As he mourned the loss of his mother, his family and closest friends had already done their mourning, and although still sad that she was gone, had been able to move forward.

This story of my family is not one of a kind — many military families deal with death whether it be on the battlefield or at home. But those who serve our country are putting other citizens’ lives and security above their own. This, to me, is the true definition of patriotism: sacrificing, and protecting your country’s honor, even though there are hardships that come with it.

I believe that those who serve our country are the epitome of patriotism, whether they are stationed overseas or not, because they show true honor to our country. It is those people with unwavering bravery who make sacrifices to enlist in the military and leave their families behind that allow the rest of Americans to enjoy the freedoms that the United States has to offer.

The American Flag is presented and folded during the Memorial Day ceremony in Edwards. The event drew a large crowd to pay respects.
Chris Dillmann/

Grady McCurdy, Vail Christian High School

Despite increasing separation and segregation in the current American society, I admire this great nation’s ability to instill fundamental values for nearly three centuries. At the core of these values is patriotism.

Specifically, an intense value of freedom and the American dream. These values are meaningful to me because they define how I choose to live my life.

I have always taken pride in my work ethic. The American dream details that you can achieve anything if you work hard enough. I was gifted enough to have a family that has always pushed me to work for my dreams, but regardless, the atmosphere of the U.S. promotes the same standards.

I believe this value was so instilled in my being that I didn’t recognize I was constantly working so hard until I was faced with challenges that made me push harder. This included 10 different coaches in four years and a new school with an incredible level of rigor.

It forced me to push myself and rely only on my work ethic and tenacity. These experiences pushed me to preserve and work for my goals which perfectly mirrors the American values that were created so many years ago.

This is not only meaningful to how I have lived my life, but how I will pursue my goals in the future. I adore that I am fortunate enough to live in a place that hard work can bring success. As I move into college, the uncertainty and fear that comes with adulthood does not worry me because I know that I have control of my future and the outcome of my endeavors.

Furthermore, I similarly value the most common expression of patriotism: freedom. I have always admired American’s freedom to make a life for oneself and the freedom to become passionate about anything. Religion, school, relationships, and passions are developed off of the basis of this country’s founding.

With a patriotic core, there is no limit to imagination and innovation. The greatest accomplishments and leaders were a result of people stretching the bounds of their freedom. Without Marie Curie’s freedom to be passionate about science, so much information regarding cancer and radiation would be unknown. Without Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King Jr.’s freedom of speech and expression, the lives and rights of so many would remain unheard.

Personally, I am passionate about my faith and future. My freedom of religion has granted me the ability to find the love and joy of a relationship with Jesus. As I move forward and determine my own passions, I delight in the knowledge that my freedoms allow me to become just as successful as the great innovators who have come before me. I am lucky to be able to call myself an American.

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