Coon Rapids student three-peats in Voice of Democracy contest

Matt Lerdahl has won the Coon Rapids VFW Voice of Democracy contest not just once, but three times.

Coon Rapids VFW Voice of Democracy contest winner Matt Lerdahl (center) and his mother, Debbie Lerdahl (second right) pictured with Mike Gifford (left), Coon Rapids VFW Men’s Auxiliary president; Charles Hawkins (second left), Coon Rapids VFW commander; and Mary Hawkins (right), Coon Rapids VFW Ladies Auxiliary president.

Coon Rapids VFW Voice of Democracy contest winner Matt Lerdahl (center) and his mother, Debbie Lerdahl (second right) pictured with Mike Gifford (left), Coon Rapids VFW Men’s Auxiliary president; Charles Hawkins (second left), Coon Rapids VFW commander; and Mary Hawkins (right), Coon Rapids VFW Ladies Auxiliary president.

The Coon Rapids High School senior was named the winner of the 2013-2014 competition by the Coon Rapids VFW Jan. 13 and received a $150 prize at the VFW’s monthly meeting.

Lerdahl’s three straight wins in the competition – he took first place in 2011-2012 and 2012-2013 as well – may well be a record for the Coon Rapids post.

He now advances to VFW district competition and if successful there, would qualify for the state VFW department Voice of Democracy event with the chance to advance to the national competition.

According to Lerdahl, the competition required him to write a four- to five-minute speech on the topic, “Why I’m Optimistic About Our Nature’s Future,” then make an audio recording on a compact disc and submit to the Coon Rapids VFW Post.

After graduation next June, Lerdahl will be attending the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colo., then after earning a degree from the academy, he will serve five years in the U.S. Air Force.

Lerdahl’s planned major is engineering, he said.

At Coon Rapids High School, Lerdahl carries a 4.2 weighted grade-point average, is a member of the National Honor Society and is captain of the speech team.

He was also starting middle linebacker on the Coon Rapids High School football team this past season.

In addition, Lerdahl has also been involved in the regional and state science fair competitions and  qualified for the international science fair in 2013.

According to Lerdahl, he will be entering the science fair this year, too.

The project on which he is working is rehabilitation software for amputees, Lerdahl said.

“I’m very excited about the project,” he said.

Outside of school, Lerdahl is active at Faith Lutheran Church, Coon Rapids, as a Sunday School teacher and Vacation Bible School counselor.

He has also achieved the highest honor in the Boy Scout movement, Eagle Scout, with Troop 415 in Coon Rapids.

The Veterans of Foreign Wars USA established the Voice of Democracy program in 1947 to provide students in grades nine through 12 the opportunity to express themselves in regards to democratic ideas and principles, according to its website.

Judging is based on three criteria – originality, 30 points; content, 35 points; and delivery, 35 points.

Each year some 40,000 high school students from across the country enter the contest in an effort to win a share of $2.2 million in educational scholarships and incentives, the Veterans of Foreign Wars USA website states.

The 2012-2013 national winner, Danielle Hayes, of San Francisco, Calif., won a $30,000 scholarship.

Peter Bodley is at peter.bodley@ecm-inc.com

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