WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. - William Henry Harrison High School junior Mitch Staszewski recently won fourth place in the nation in the Voice of Democracy Essay Contest, a patriotic audio essay competition sponsored by the Veterans of Foreign Wars.
The son of John and Catherine Riscili Staszewski, Mitch is a former Westfield resident currently living in West Lafayette, Ind. The 17-year-old's inspiration for the essay came from his late grandfather, Frank J. Riscili, who served in the 1256 Combat Engineers during World War II. An early passion for writing was fostered by Mitch's grandmother, Westfield resident and former Westfield Academy and Central School teacher, Madeline Riscili.
Composing an essay on the challenging topic, "Is the Constitution Still Relevant?" Mitch refined his writing, recorded himself reading the essay and submitted the entry to the local VFW Post in November 2012. He won the local competition, moved on to the district level where he again won and beat 10 other finalists in January to qualify as Indiana's state winner to the national competition in Washington, D.C., which was held in March. Among the 54 state and territory finalists, Mitch earned fourth place and a $7,000 scholarship. An estimated over 60,000 students entered the contest this year.
William Henry Harrison High School junior Mitch Staszewski, center, stands with Indiana Ladies Auxiliary President Gloria Faulk, left, and Indiana VFW Commander Rodney Funk, right in Washington, D.C., in March. Staszewski came in fourth place out of more than 64,000 entries in the VFW’s Voice of Democracy audio-essay contest.
Mitch asserts the Constitution is indeed highly relevant.
"Even though we may not have the document in front of us to read every day and be able to view it, we have things all around us in our nation that we're able to see that cause us to remember that," he said.
As part of Mitch's prize, he received an all-expenses-paid trip to Washington, D.C., from Saturday, March 2 to Wednesday, March 6. The trip gave the 54 teens a true D.C. adventure with visits to monuments, the National Cathedral, museums, the Capital Building and various other historical and political sites. Students were also invited to a summer leadership seminar in Pennsylvania as a continuation of their special achievement.
Mitch has always had a passion for history and hopes to pursue a career in a related field.
"It's a story that's never going to be complete," he said. "It's such an in-depth story you can focus your entire life on and never learn the full version of it."
Mitch is a member of National Honors Society, an avid participant in 4-H and an accomplished trumpet player.
The English teacher who helped Mitch with his essay was thrilled about the results.
"Mitch writes with sincerity, so this contest matched up that sincerity with his patriotism for the perfect outcome," Kathy Nimmer said. "Mitch is the dependable student who doesn't grab the spotlight in obtrusive ways but is always doing the right thing just because it is the right thing."
Following is an excerpt of Mitch's winning essay
"It is dangerously easy to take our constitution for granted. Some may argue that the highest law in the United States has become the status quo. Others may look away from the document because politics may seem so complicated that people forget the true intentions of such a marvelous creation. Imagine our nation without these fundamental guidelines which are the backbone of our society. Imagine life without the unalienable rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Imagine America without its identity. The constitution is still relevant on a personal, national and world level, and we can never let that change."