DAR presents 2016 Good Citizen award to WBHS student

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VINTON–WBHS senior Kate O’Connor received this year’s 2016 DAR Good Citizen Award from the Roanoke Valley Chapter of the National Society of the Daughters of the American Revolution (NSDAR).  The presentation was made at the chapter’s meeting on March 19.

Kate O'Connor (center), a senior at William Byrd High School, has been named as the 2016 DAR Good Citizen. Her essay won first place in the local and district competitions and second place in the state of Virginia. The awards were presented by Brenda Atkinson (on left), Director of the Virginia District VII DAR, and Melissa Gates, Literacy Chair for the local chapter.
Kate O’Connor (center), a senior at William Byrd High School, has been named as the 2016 DAR Good Citizen. Her essay won first place in the local and district competitions and second place in the state of Virginia. The awards were presented by Brenda Atkinson (on left), Director of the Virginia District VII DAR, and Melissa Gates, Literacy Chair for the local chapter.

According to Lee Sikes, who is the scholarship coordinator at William Byrd, the DAR Good Citizen is nominated by senior classmates.  Only one student per year may be honored as a school’s DAR Good Citizen.

This award recognizes and rewards individuals who possess the qualities of dependability, service, leadership, and patriotism in their homes, schools, and communities. These students are selected because they demonstrate these qualities to an outstanding degree.

Once a student is chosen as the DAR Good Citizen they are invited to participate in the scholarship portion of the program.

“The essay/scholarship program is optional, and we were certainly pleased that Kate chose to go forward with her participation,” said Sikes.

O’Connor’s essay won first place at both the chapter level and at the district level. Her essay also placed second in the state competition. She chose freedom of religion as her focus on the topic of preserving American heritage.

Brenda Atkinson, Director of the Virginia District VII DAR presented the district certificate and a monetary award. District VII is made up of 16 chapters.

Melissa Gates, who serves as the local DAR liaison with William Byrd and also as Literacy Promotion Chair, presented the chapter certificate and monetary gift.

O’Connor read her essay to those present at the meeting (read her essay below).

Gates described O’Connor as a very busy young lady who is secretary of the senior class, has served as president of the Leo Club and the Byrd House Club (affiliated with Habitat for Humanity), and is a member of the SCA, FCA, Mentor, DECA, and Reindeer Clubs. She is an AP student scholar and served at last year’s graduation ceremonies as a Junior Marshal. She is a member of the Cross Country team where she has served as captain and plays girls soccer. She is very active in church youth activities at St. Andrews Catholic Church and teaches Sunday School. She is also a Certified Nursing Assistant and works at Berkshire Health and Rehabilitation Center in Vinton.

She is the daughter of Mary and Steve O’Connor. Her plans for next year are to study for a degree in nursing from a four-year university.

The DAR Good Citizen Award was created in 1934 and is intended to encourage and reward the qualities of good citizenship.

The DAR, founded in 1890, is a non-profit, non-political, volunteer women’s service organization dedicated to promoting patriotism, to preserving American history, and to securing America’s future through better education for children. Members of the DAR document direct lineage to a patriot in the American Revolution.

The Roanoke Valley Chapter, which meets at St. Timothy’s Lutheran Church on Hardy Road in Vinton, will celebrate its 55th anniversary in November. They have about 50 members with several memberships pending.

While the DAR has traditionally been thought of as primarily history-focused, the organization is increasingly involved in numerous community service projects on the local, state, and national level. The local chapter makes hand-tied blankets for veterans at the Veterans Center and pocket flags and care packages for deploying troops. In addition to the DAR Good Citizen Award, they present an award to an Air Force JROTC cadet at WBHS each spring. They support and participate in veterans’ parades and events. They have donated trees to be planted at St. Timothy’s and at the Vinton War Memorial.

The Roanoke Valley chapter is in the midst of a national NSDAR campaign which aims to set a Guinness World Record by collecting and sending 10,000 cards in one month to active duty troops thanking them for their service.

Award winning DAR Good Citizen Essay for 2016 by Kate O’Connor of WBHS

Each year the National Society of the Daughters of the American Revolution names high school seniors from around the country as DAR Good Citizens. Students are nominated by their classmates and may enter the scholarship competition which involves writing an essay.

Each year the title remains “Our American Heritage and Our Responsibility for Preserving It.” However, the focus changes each year. This 2016 focus is—“Of our American rights and freedoms, which one would you choose to celebrate and why?”

WBHS senior Kate O’Connor chose freedom of religion as the freedom she would celebrate and explains why in her essay which won first place at the local and district levels and second place in the state:

“Thanks be to God.” I utter these words at the conclusion of Mass every Sunday at church, not giving it a second thought. In the school cafeteria, I bow my head and whisper a quick prayer offering thanks to God for my lunch, without fear of harm. At the mall, I am wearing a t-shirt that proclaims my Catholic faith, without concern for my safety. However, someone once was, and this shaped our American heritage. Religious persecution was not an unusual part of everyday life in the past. From the extremes of murdering people because of their beliefs or on a smaller, yet still wrong level of forbidding people to pray, religious freedom was usually a foreign notion. Then, America was born, shaped, and defended, and the radical idea of religious freedom was made a reality. However, this was not without struggle. While our founding fathers did agree on some basic fundamental rights and freedoms, there were disagreements on how far these liberties would be extended. Many people thought the norm of having an official national religion should not be challenged. Nonetheless, some of our founding fathers, most notably, Thomas Jefferson, saw the importance of establishing religious freedom. His valiant fight did not go unrewarded or unnoticed, and despite what criticisms arose, eventually religious freedom was established in America. This needs to be celebrated. As Americans today, we take this aspect of our heritage for granted. We can choose which church to attend or whether to attend one at all. We are allowed to decide if we want to pray. We can choose whether to donate or not donate money to religious affiliations. However, we go about our daily business apathetic to the fact that if it were not for some of our founding fathers, these choices might not be available. Without religious freedom, as Americans, we could be denied opportunities because of our beliefs. We could be legally, and even with applause, thrown into jail for refusal to pray to a certain god. It would be possible that the government could tax us more because we do not follow the nation’s official religion. This is why the freedom of religion is one of the most important parts of our American history. It enables us to choose what we believe and then how we act upon these beliefs.  Because of this, our lives and the way we live them are ultimately shaped by this establishment. Whether it is becoming a pastor or not following any religion, we can decide how religion affects our lives. We live with the comfort of knowing that regardless of what we believe, we will not be legally threatened or harmed. As Americans, we should recognize the importance of and be thankful for religious freedom. Next Sunday, at church, I will lift my voice up in praise to God. At school, I will bow my head once again in thanks. In public I will wear my apparel that expresses my religious beliefs. Now, however, I will think twice about what I am doing. I will remember the sacrifices those made in order to establish religious freedom. Above all, I will celebrate our religious freedom as an intrinsic part of our American heritage and our American future.