Four Arizona high school students won the 2021 “Waving the Flag of Freedom” High School Essay Competition sponsored by Honoring America’s Veterans, the nonprofit organization behind the Phoenix Veterans Day Parade.
Among the winners is Desert Edge High School sophomore Isabell Wilson for her essay on what she has learned from her parents’ service in the military.
“Because it was a statewide contest, I didn’t think that I would win but when I got the email it was really cool and it was an awesome experience,” Wilson said. “I was really excited. My essay was pretty much what the flag represents for me. I wrote that it does have the general kind of concept that everybody thinks about but for me, it’s a little more personal as both of my parents have served, and I have lived the military lifestyle for a while with my parents.”
Students received a $250 cash prize and their teachers earned $150 to use in their classroom. The high schoolers were also honored at and participated in the 25th anniversary parade on Nov. 11 in central Phoenix.
The teenager said the parade was her favorite part of the experience, as she and the other three essay winners rode on a firetruck during the ceremony.
“I loved the experience,” Wilson said. “I got to wave and smile at everyone for a couple hours and it was awesome. It was so fun to watch the kids clapping and just looking at us and looking so happy. I think my favorite part was watching the little kids salute. It was so cute.”
All essay submissions were judged on focus, theme, creative writing, grammar, originality and content.
Paula Pedene, Phoenix Veterans Day Parade coordinator, said it was special having the essay winners in the 25th annual parade. She added that it helps achieve the parade’s purpose of educating youth about those who have served our country.
“We want to educate the youth of today as to who our veterans are and what they have done to safeguard our nation,” Wilson said. “That’s one of our goals. Another goal is to honor and recognize those who have served our country in order to safeguard our freedoms.”
Pedene said this year’s crowd was one of the largest she’d seen in years.
“We change the theme each year,” Pedene said. “They write an essay of 300 to 500 words every year based on a different theme. They have the option of interviewing a veteran or military member and really talking to them and then for some of them, it’s given them a chance to ask their grandpa, grandmother, brothers, sisters, fathers, mothers questions that they may not have asked before. So, if we can get them thinking about what these men and women give, to help us safeguard our freedoms, that’s what we want to do. We want them to have that broader understanding.”
Wilson did just that. In her essay, she wrote that her parents are her heroes. Her dad, Louis Wilson, is a master sergeant in the Air Force and has been serving for almost 20 years. Her mom, Tiffany Wilson, is a registered nurse, working to become a nurse practitioner.
“Obviously they’re my heroes because they serve but not just because of that,” she said.
“My mom is so resilient. She doesn’t just go for the bare minimum. She keeps going and has the mindset of I got this, but I need to work harder to do better. And my dad, he’s been in the Air Force for 20 years, so he’s really worked hard at his job and no matter how high he ranks, he still does his job to the utmost extent.”
Wilson is a member of the Desert Edge marching band and choir. She also volunteers with the Civil Air Patrol.
“My high school life consists of the Marching Scorpions,” she said. “I play the alto saxophone in that. I do choir, too. So, I do a lot of music stuff there. Outside of school, I race cars. That’s one of my favorite sports. It’s really fun.”
With a passion for helping others, Wilson hopes to become a pediatrician.
“My whole life I’ve known that I really wanted to help people,” Wilson said. “And I’ve always loved kids, I’ve always loved hanging around them and just being friends with them and just kind of really taking care and being with them. And so, I thought that well if I love hanging around kids and helping them and I love helping people, this would pretty much be the perfect job and I am also really interested in the medical sciences.”
The high schooler’s mother, Tiffany, said she’s proud of her daughter and her bright future.
“She really is a very driven young lady, and I am so blessed to have her,” Tiffany said. “She has been planning her life career for several years, wants to be proficient on an instrument from every category, brass, woodwind, string, percussion, and has been competing in academics for years. She’s the president of her choir and is in the varsity choir. I could go on forever about her accomplishments and how outstanding she is.”
To read the full texts of the winning essay submissions, visit honoringamericasveterans.org/veterans-day-parade-phoenix.