Columbia Junior High School student Apars Walia got a big surprise when she won a regional award in a writing contest on the theme: Why Are You Proud of Your Country? Sponsored locally by VFW Post 11401 Fife/Milton/Edgewood, the Patriot's Pen contest is conducted nationwide by VFW branches as a way to get students thinking about what, to them, makes America great. Out of the approximately 16 entries, Walia's writings touched the judges the most.
Walia's awards include a framed certificate, a U.S. Savings Bond, and she is eligible for a scholarship. She was presented with these gifts by five members of VFW Post 11401 who visited her classroom to deliver the good news in person. Her dad, Romi Walia, was there as well to see his daughter win such honors.
Gary Rowan is chairman of the VFW Post 11401's two student essay programs – Patriot's Pen (sixth, seventh and eighth-grade students) and Voice of Democracy (for high school students). He is a veteran of the Navy Seabees, having served from 1955-1992 including active duty during Desert Storm. He said the judges were deeply impressed with Walia's writing, and even more so when they met her and her father at the classroom awards presentation. "It was quite touching," he said. "She is a very brilliant young lady."
Walia was born in Punjab, India, and raised in Delhi. She arrived in the U.S. two years ago to be with the rest of her extended family. "My parents wanted a better education for my sister and me and plus all my relatives live over here," she said. Her sister Sahej Walia is a junior at Fife High School.
Walis said school in America is quite different from school in India. "It was really different than this. There are many more freedoms in school here than in India. Over there (the teachers) were very strict. Over here the teachers are a lot nicer."
She is a whiz with computers, and is particularly interested in computer animation. "Ever since I was young I was good at computers. My dad has told me that I've always known how to use a computer." This is an area of study Walia said she plans to pursue in college.
She has her U.S. History and World Studies teacher Joe Storholt to thank for presenting her with the opportunity to enter the Patriot's Pen essay contest. She said it was he who inspired her thoughts on the Constitution and other subjects he is teaching them.
"Mr. Storholt gave the packet to me and said I should enter the contest because I had a shot at winning. I really didn't think I would win because I don't consider myself a really good writer," Walia said. While she is humble about her essay, its spirit and heart were certainly not lost on the VFW judges.
"We pick the one we feel was right," Rowan said of the judges' panel, and he's particularly proud that his Post awarded a young student who's relatively new to this country. "It was a good feeling to award someone who hasn't been here that long."