Skip to main content

Independent Voice

Kai Peris Wins VFW's Voice of Democracy

Dec 29, 2021 12:00AM ● By By Debra Dingman

VFW Commander Cecil Dennings, Kai pictured with his Dad, Claus, and Kai's little brother. Photo by Nicolas Brown

DIXON, CA (MPG) - Removing the stigma surrounding mental health issues and recognizing that “COVID doesn’t discriminate; we shouldn’t either,” may be the reasons Kai Peris, a senior at Davis High School who lives with his family in Dixon, won this year’s VFW Voice of Democracy audio-essay contest.

This year’s theme was “Where do we go from here?” and Kai entered a 3-minute speech giving statistics about COVID deaths and a variety of pandemic-induced stress and depression that has forced mental health issues into the public’s eye.

“The pandemic brought forward issues that are forcing us to stop stigmatizing mental health,” he said. “We need to stick together, reunite, and come together. We must recover from the devastation and the isolation. It’s taken more than lives. With such a sudden imbalance in life, the mental health of millions has undoubtedly been thrown into chaos. It’s important we recognize that everyone experiences tough times. We should take proactive action.”

Established in 1947, the Voice of Democracy audio-essay program sponsored by the Veterans of Foreign Wars provides high school students with the unique opportunity to express themselves regarding a democratic and patriotic-themed recorded essay.

“Kai’s was excellent,” said VFW Post Commander Cecil Dennings. “To me, it was inspirational.”

Kai has always had a strong sense of patriotism according to his father, Claus Peris, who attributes that to Kai growing up with both parents serving in the U.S. Air Force. Claus just retired a year ago after 26 years.

“We as a family have all struggled, each having specific instances that were challenged whether it was me retiring, or my wife at home now with all of us and experiencing the pandemic. I’ve been very open about mental health with my children; all had some form of therapy or counseling. “Kai has a younger brother who is autistic and a 16-year-old sister.

“Moving around in the Air Force and having to stop and start friendships gave him a wide aperture of his world view. He has resiliency,” said Claus who added that Kai was born in and also lived in Japan. “He is very accepting of cultures, religion, and people. He’s very open-minded.” That is why the second part of his speech dealt with people accepting differences.

“Noah is very high functioning but there’s definitely moments that we recognize his different ways of thinking. I treat him as if he’s as normal as me or my sister. But when I do think he is thinking differently, it makes me realize I have to be more patient,” Kai said. “He’s taught me that an event that means [something minor] to someone, may be a big event to him. You never know how the other person is thinking through their perspective. He reminds me that there’s different ways of thinking and it’s important to remember that instead of bashing heads.”

“The ‘us vs. them’ mentality causes a wealth of hatred and violence. All of that has added to the social turmoil,” Kai said. “It should be people working together. If the pandemic has taught us anything, it is that we need other people. We need each other. We all bleed red. COVID doesn’t discriminate, we shouldn’t either.”

Each year, nearly 64,500 high school students from across the country enter to win their share of more than $2 million in educational scholarships and incentives awarded through the program.

“I’m very proud of him,” said Claus.

“It’s always fun to encourage writing outside the topics that I normally explore in school. I like to write about different things,” Kai said. Last year he entered the VFW contest and had to write on “Was this what the founding fathers envisioned?” I delved deeper into the history and looked at things from a veterans standpoint.”

For more information on Dixon’s VFW chapter, contact Commander Dennings at (209) 395-8019.