Leighton Peters poses with her grandfather, the veteran who inspired her national award-winning essay. (Submitted photo)

WASHINGTON – The Veterans of Foreign Wars has announced that Leighton Peters, a seventh-grade student from St. Joseph Catholic Church, Rice Lake, has been named the national first-place winner and recipient of a $5,000 award in its 2022-23 Patriot’s Pen essay contest.

Peters, who was sponsored by Rice Lake VFW Post 2204 and its Auxiliary, wrote her winning essay based on this year’s theme, “My Pledge to Our Veterans.”

As the national first-place winner, Peters was presented with her award during the March 6 Parade of Winners award ceremony in Washington, D.C., where she delivered her winning essay.

Since its inception nearly 30 years ago, the VFW’s Patriot’s Pen essay competition has helped foster patriotism by encouraging young minds to examine our nation’s history along with their own experiences in modern American society while improving their writing skills.

Open to eligible sixth-, seventh- and eighth-grade students, the competition requires students to submit a 300- to 400-word essay expressing their views on a selected patriotic theme while competing for their share of more than $1 million in awards and prizes. More than 62,600 students participated in this year’s competition. Peters competed at the national level against 52 other state finalists for individual awards ranging from $500 to $5,000. At the national and local level, the VFW has distributed more than $777,200 in awards this year.