Billy Gregg only had the think about the music to find his inspiration as a writer.
The senior has spent at least the last four Veterans Days playing for the high school band at the ceremony conducted by Lake Forest American Legion Post 264.
So when the Legion Post's annual Veterans Day essay contest came along this fall, Gregg thought of the music and the role it served in each of those Veterans Day ceremonies in submitting his first-ever entry.
"I went in knowing I was going to write about music since that's what I have always connected to Veterans Day," said Gregg, who has played an instrument since the fifth grade, the bass clarinet since sixth. "It came naturally to me.
Gregg was awarded first place for his essay and $1,000, which he will donate in portions to the high school band program, debate and Scholastic Bowl.
"Everything needs money and I wanted to be able to help the band program and all the rest of the activities," he said.
Second place went to Sam Tauke, who received $500 and third to Lauren McCabe, who received $250.
The other Lake Forest students who entered the contest included: Sabrina Acker, Kurt Blumeyer, Ryan Burns, Molly Carr, Richard Daniels, Allie Danneker, Cameron Douglass, Hope Goldman, Cordelia Grob, Abbi Kordell, John Muscarello, Mukesh Nadam, Anna Noronha, Cat Perino, Gabriela Perino, Joseph Santello, Jeffery Stevens, Stephanie Weber and Natalie Yang.
Here is Gregg's winning essay.
By Billy Gregg
Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness.
The idea that human beings are entitled to these basic rights has come a long way since it was first explored by John Locke and other enlightenment philosophers in the 17th and 18th centuries. No country, no society, has ever achieved as much as the United States of America in terms of fulfilling these ideals.
That being said, the United States would never have evolved into the bastion of freedom and justice that it is today without the sacrifices made by its protectors, living and dead.
Veterans Day is about acknowledging that, without the bravery and devotion of the men and women who have served, and continue to serve each and every one of us, the preservation of this great nation would be impossible. In this way, we owe everything to our Veterans. We owe them our freedom and our Democratic form of government; we owe them our lives.
As a member of the Lake Forest High School Band, the celebration of Veterans Day has been particularly poignant for me. My most vivid memories of past ceremonies focus on one song in particular: the Armed Forces Salute.
This piece is a medley of the Anthems of the different branches of service, and during the song, Veterans stand to be recognized as the Anthems for their respective services are played. No facet of Veterans Day has ever resonated with me to the same degree as seeing the pride shine in the eyes of these men and women as they are acknowledged for their incredible service.
Beyond that, other songs serve to bring out some of the best qualities of America. The lyrical melodies of America the Beautiful sing of beauty and freedom, while the powerful marches that we owe to the iconic John Phillip Sousa, and other great American composers, such as The Stars and Stripes Forever and Hands Across the Sea inspire feelings of patriotism.
In this way, we are given the opportunity to honor our Veterans by representing the qualities of America that they defended through a medium as profound as music.
Even though we do so much to thank our Veterans for their steadfast defense of our nation, Veterans Day is also about realizing that it is impossible to properly thank our servicemen and women for their unflagging valor and determination. There is nothing that we can do for our Veterans that could possibly offset our tremendous debt to them.
So, what does Veterans Day mean to me?
It means recognition, reflection, and patriotism, but it also means music, and the pride shining in the eyes of men and women to whom we owe everything.