“I Speak for Democracy”

Today is son Tom’s 56th birthday.  His Mom, my wife, Barbara, died in 1965 at 22, when he was one.

Last night was precinct caucus night in Minnesota.  I attended as I always do.  I’ll write more about this later in conjunction with an unusual Primary election which was set up by MN law in 2016 for 2020.  Do participate in that election.

Recently I’ve been visiting with Barbara’s high school classmate and friend, Larry Gauper (both VCHS 1961).  In the course of an e-conversation, on February 23, Larry recalled when he and Barbara competed in the “I Speak for Democracy” annual competition.  His writing follows, and after that is the actual paper that Barbara wrote on the topic in 196o-61 at Valley City High School (which I have sent to Larry).  The words are their own; the interpretation is left to the reader.  They took their work seriously.  (Here’s an on-line article featuring a winning submission in the 1961 era,)

Larry Gauper, Feb 23, 2020, with his permission:

One of the last times I interacted with Barbara was when we both competed for the VCHS competition in the Voice of Democracy essay/oration contest. Tina Steinborn, our English teacher, asked all of us to do an essay based on the criteria for the contest. We didn’t have to go any further and nearly all of her students stopped there. But Barbara and [I] truly went the extra mile.  We were then asked to report on a Saturday morning to record our essays on the school’s reel-to-reel tape deck. This is how the district and state events wanted submissions, via a tape recording. After Barbara and I finished recording our individual essays, the judges listened to them. Barbara and I waited for their verdict, as we sat in the hall outside the judges room. We were then invited in and I was named the winner. Her essay may indeed have been better than mine, but I was used to recording into a microphone.  Since [my] sophomore [year] I worked on the air at KOVC [radio Valley City] and we were now starting our senior year. Plus, in those days, a male voice on tape earned a few, albeit undeserved points. This was a cruel way to do this contest, exacerbated by the fact only two of us were competing. I remember Barb’s disappointment, expressed in tears. I had a hollow feeling about winning, certainly not celebratory. I overcame this when I went on to win the district and state competition and left Hector Airport [Fargo] for my first plane ride – to Washington, DC. How Barbara would have enjoyed that achievement in what was to be her very short life.

Here is Barbara’s two-page typewritten Essay, transcribed exactly as written

I SPEAK FOR DEMOCRACY Barbara Sunde, English 12, 1960-61 Valley City (ND) High School

I stand upon the hill of darkness, and as I walk down the hill, I come upon a city with brilliant lights.  The city’s name is Democracy.  Democracy contains four sources of power which array the city with dazzling light.

The first power is named Freedom.  From this power come the lights from the very heart of the city.  The lights come from the people.  And when I say “people” I mean a definite type of people.  I mean people who possess hearts and souls.  People who want to think their own thoughts, worship in their church, their own Divine power.  For if these freedoms are taken from people, their lights shall fade away, and the heart of democracy shall be extinguished.

The second power is that of Independence.  As I witnessed the lights it produced, I saw that it especially applied to me.  It brought to mind a quotation by [Thomas] Moore.  “Better to dwell in freedom’s hall, with a cold, damp floor and mouldering wall, Than bow thy head and bend thy knee in the proudest palace of slavery.”

Perhaps born in poverty…but I am the richest person on this earth, because I have my freedom and independence of thought.  An independence which enables me to make the most effective use of my personal abilities.  Independence is a source of choice.  And even my poverty leaves choice.  I can use my God given talents and initiative to gain the wealth of the world, or I may remain in this poverty by my own choice.

Truth, too, is a power within the city.  And without truth I would not have my beliefs.  I would not be able to formulate opinions on the world in general.  Nor would I be able to give reasoning to others for the way I believe.  People who know the truth can set the thoughts of others, they can influence the world in general.  They can live their lives according to truth and all that is right and, according to how they feel within their heart and soul.  Indeed, the light of Truth shines brightly within the city.

The lights surrounding the city are produced by the power of justice.  For the justice is justice by the people.  What could be more fair than the judgement you yourself would give?  All fairness reigns and give a peace to the city.  It is in this peace of mind that I live in the city.

Yes, I live in the city of Democracy.  As I freely, think, so do I freely speak.  As I privately worship, so do I openly worship.  And these things do I do with a knowledge of truth, with a feeling of independence of thought, and with Freedom imbedded in my very soul.

The city was built long ago, and one may know that it took much turmoil and struggle.  I was not a part of this, but through a grace of God, I find myself living within the city.  My pride and joy are infinite for the individuals who struggled that there might be such a city.  That there might be for others, freedom, truth, justice, and independence.  That there might be for others, a democracy.

Perhaps my city seems a bit symbolic and not really an application to real life, but there is nothing more real to me than the democracy I live in.  For my democracy is a city.  Democracy does contain four powers. But these powers can turn people to dazzling lights, and make them into individuals and not just a general class called people.  I am an individual.  In freedom is my life.  In independence is my hope for the future.  In truth lies my right and my reason to believe as I do.  In justice lies my peace with my countrymen and my peace with God.

In Democracy lies my life, and this democracy allows me to say with all my heart, “I thank you Lord.”

1 reply
  1. Larry Gauper
    Larry Gauper says:

    Thanks for sharing Barbara’s essay, Dick. Despite competing with her in the Valley City School “I Speak for Democracy” competition, we never had the opportunity to hear or read each other’s essays. She did an insightful and well written job on her entry. As she describes what we have in this American democracy, I pray today that we, as a citizenry and voters, can keep it. Democracy is not a spectator sport, it’s participatory. We all must actively participate. God bless the memory of Barbara Sunde Bernard. I will never forget her and our school days in Valley City.


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