Michael Reagan presents portrait to essay winner Olivia Olson

A surprise honor at Edmonds VFW meeting
By Brian Soergel | Jan 25, 2018
Photo by: Dan Doyle Michael Reagan presents a portrait to Edmonds-Woodway High School senior Olivia Olson.

Edmonds resident Michael Reagan only draws portraits of fallen soldiers. So if someone receives one of his free portraits, and that person didn’t have someone die in the war, they are special.

Olivia Olson, a 17-year-old senior at Edmonds-Woodway High School, is special.

Olson was honored for another of her award-winning essays Jan. 17 at a special meeting of the Edmonds’ VFW Post 8870 at American Legion Hall.

It’s safe to say Olson has dominated the VFW’s annual “Voices for Democracy” essay contest recently. She’s won every year she’s been a Warrior. In addition, she won twice while in middle school. The award is formally announced during Memorial Day ceremonies at the Edmonds Cemetery, where she will win one last time.

“I started by telling Olivia that if she was getting a free portrait from me she had to have done something wonderful, and she had,” said Reagan, a Marine veteran of the Vietnam War. “Then she knew. And what was great for me is I saw the little kid in her appear for a second, not knowing what to do. So we hugged. It was a great moment.”

Olson, who has a 4.0 GPA, is a National Honor Society vice-president and social chair of E-W’s speech and debate team, and was a student of the month in December. Her goals are to pursue law and political science degrees. Her parents, Greg and Vivian Olson, are both Air Force Academy graduates.

“The evening was fantastic,” Reagan said. “All the winners from each group were wonderful. But in all my years doing this, I don’t believe I’ve ever heard a better essay than this one from Olivia, maybe anyone, including me.

“I have a couple of photos of the portrait I gave her, and it was planned as a huge surprise. But I wanted her to know how much the combat veterans of VFW Post 8870 appreciate her representing us with her words. She has a wonderful future in front of her, as long as she stays her.

“I also wanted to be sure she and all the others knew who we all were. Sometimes I think people just think of us as a bunch of old guys in town. Not people who risked it all for this country. Not people who watched their friends die for this country.”

Reagan is never afraid to use his voice as a military veteran to express his views, saying those who have it need to use it.

“But at the same time, we need to remember two things,” he said. “Talk from your heart and talk honestly. It seems some of that is missing right now. I told Olivia it didn’t matter if she had the number one essay in the state. Because she was number one to all of us in the Post. We would always be there for her if she needed us.

“I made sure she understood how much she’s grown over the years, from a little kid with passion to a young women with direction and passion. I told her I thought this was a perfect time for her. We all agreed she was magnificent.”

VFW past Post Commander James Blossey said that those who have heard Olson speak know that she is not only exceptional, but mature and talented well beyond her 17 years. Judges said her essay this year was her best yet.

“When she completed her speech – all completely memorized and without notes – the crowd gave her a standing ovation,” Blossey said. “Then Mike unexpectedly came forward bearing a large, discreetly wrapped package.”

Reagan showed copies of several military young women, now dead, whose portraits he had drawn, and said how consistently moved he was at Olson’s grasp of the meaning of patriotism and sacrifices such as these.

He then unveiled a stunning portrait of Olivia, and presented it to her as his personal tribute.

“She looked over her left shoulder at her mother with an expression that wordlessly said,

‘Mom, what is happening?’” Blossey said. “Then, fighting back tears but with a smile on her face, she accepted the large framed picture.

“She stared at it for a moment, handed it to her mom and embraced Reagan for what seemed like a full minute. There was not a dry eye in the place, including the eyes of Michael Reagan.”

@Other essay winners@

In addition to Olson, Edmonds VFW Post 8870 recognized all students who were 2017 winners of its three annual essay contests.

The theme for this year’s elementary school contest was “What Does a Veteran Mean to

Me?” The contest was open to all public, private, and home-schooled elementary school

students in the Edmonds and Mukilteo school districts in grades three through five. Winners

advanced to district competition, culminating at the state level.

There was no third-grade winner this year, but the fourth- and fifth-grade contests were a clean sweep for Brier Elementary School. This year’s winning essay for fourth grade was submitted by Sara Ambachew, and the runner-up was Brianna Reyes. At the fifth-grade level, the winner was Cole Harris, and the runner-up was Nikolas Lopez.

For middle school students in the two districts, the contest is called “Patriot’s Pen,” which culminates at the national level. It is open to all middle-school students in grades sixth through eight. The theme was “America’s Gift to My Generation.” The winning entry was submitted by Mohuwa Wahid, a student at Explorer Middle School.

Olson took first-place honors in both the local and district Voice of Democracy contest. While two contests for younger students require a written essay, the Voice of Democracy is an oral competition requiring the submission of an audio recording. This year’s topic was “American History: Our Hope for the Future.”

Lara Wahid of Kamiak High School was runner-up.

All winners received framed certificates and cash prizes of $100 for first place and $50 for the runners-up.





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