Essay winners pose with Virginia Governor

Caroline Vernon, Gov. Ralph Northam and Brooke Eubanks pose together after the students’ Veterans Day Student Essay were announced winners Nov. 11.

RICHMOND – A middle-schooler from Hanover County and a junior-high student from Patrick County were the first place winners in the Virginia War Memorial’s 2019 Veterans Day Student Essay Contest.

The winners were announced at the Commonwealth’s Veterans Day Ceremony Nov. 11 at the Virginia War Memorial.

The annual contest is open to middle and high school-age students throughout the state. The essay topic was “A Virginian Who Served in the Military in the 20th or 21st Century Who Inspired Me.”

The winning writers each won a cash prize of $250 and were invited to read their essay aloud during the Veterans Day ceremony. Their teachers also were invited to Richmond and each received a $100 prize to be used for classroom supplies.

            The younger winner is Brooke Eubanks, a 6th grader at Chickahominy Middle School. Her essay was about her uncle, Army Sgt. 1st Class Eddie O. Johnson.  Her teacher is Cheryl Clarke.

“Inspiration comes in many shapes and sizes,” Eubanks’ pointed out in her submission. “Every day, members of our military get out of bed and stand up for something many of us may take for granted: our freedoms. They are willing to risk their lives for people they don’t even know and that is nothing less than remarkable. But one military member truly inspires me on a personal level, and that military member is my uncle, (SFC Johnson). His character and love of our country have taught me life lessons I believe we can all learn from.”

Eubanks reflected on Johnson’s decision to enlist at age 16. “He first thought about becoming a police officer, but the Constitution of the United States had such a strong effect on him that he chose a career with the Army as a mechanic. Eddie felt a need to ‘defend the Constitution against all enemies, foreign and domestic.’ In fact, the day after Eddie graduated from high school in 1988, a recruiter drove him to basic combat training at Fort Jackson, S.C. Eddie could have chosen to go on vacation or party like his friends, but he knew he had made a choice to be loyal to our country, and that was his priority.”

The older winner is Caroline Vernon, an 11th grader at Patrick County High School in Stuart.  Her essay profiled her brother, Capt. Justin Vernon. Lisa Belcher is her teacher.

“Selfless, courageous, dedicated, heroic men and women serve our country every day,” Caroline’s entry began. “From the Army to the Air Force, every man and woman makes a sacrifice for our freedom – a sacrifice that most people cannot even fathom. Not only do these (individuals) sacrifice time spent with their family and time spent near their homes, some make the ultimate sacrifice. Without our military, our country would not stand and our homes would be war grounds. These inspirational and determined men and women are the base of the USA. 

“Inspiration brought on by other people is one of the greatest forms of motivation anyone can encounter, especially when the person that is most inspirational to you is your brother,” the essay continued. “My brother’s name is Justin Vernon, and he is a captain in the Army (working) in the EOD force. Justin has deployed once to Iraq for nine months in 2016, serving for Operation Inherent Resolve. Justin is soon to be a commander for an EOD company in January.”

After reading their essays, Brooke and Caroline were congratulated by Governor Ralph Northam, who was the keynote speaker for the Veterans Day ceremony.

Middle school runners-up in the contest are:

  • Clarke Canova, homeschooled, 8th Grade, James City County
  • Jaqulynne Stewart, Edward Drew Middle School, 6th Grade, Falmouth (Stafford County)

High school runners-up in the contest are:

  • Rashad Seaborne, Maggie Walker Governors School, 11th Grade, Richmond
  • You Jin Lee, Douglas Freeman High School, 12th Grade, Henrico County