NEWPORT BEACH — Kelsey Woo had no family ties to the military when she first competed a year ago for a national scholarship awarded by the Veterans of Foreign Wars.
But today she feels much closer to the nation's men and women in uniform.
"I really have a deeper appreciation for all that they've sacrificed," said the 18-year-old Newport Beach resident.
Last year, Woo made it to the state finals of the speech writing contest, but fell short of winning the VFW's $30,000 T.C. Selman Memorial Scholarship.
Now, after a second try, she has come in first among thousands of students competing for the scholarship by winning at the Voice of Democracy national finals.
After a year of immersing herself in the veteran community, Woo wrote a second speech that won the top prize March 6 in Washington, D.C.
"I was introduced to this amazing community of people I have never known about," she said. "I really ended up doing [the contest a second year] because I love these people."