Tasked with writing a speech on the theme “American History: Our Hope for the Future,” Lydia Eason instructed the nation to stop complaining and overcome its divisions.

“It’s about how we as America need to come together and accept each other’s differences,” Eason said. “We just need to come together and love each other no matter what the obstacles are because we’re Americans.”

An audience of veterans found her argument persuasive. Eason, a 14-year-old student at El Dorado Springs High School, bested all competitors last week in a statewide speech competition held by the Veterans of Foreign Wars, winning $2,000 and a trip to the national finals.

She will have to wait a week to be crowned as the state’s most emphatically patriotic high school student. A VFW luncheon planned for today to honor her, other students and teachers in the area was postponed because of icy roads.

The makeup trip to the VFW post in Webb City on Sunday, Feb. 25, will be small potatoes for the Eason family. They are headed to Washington, D.C., in March for the national finals of a speech competition put on by the veterans organization.

Eason will use her winnings from the state competition to purchase a red-and-white Hereford cow — “I think they’re really pretty,” she says — that she will raise for slaughter on her family’s farm outside El Dorado Springs. Eason, whose favorite school subjects are English and agriculture, also raises chickens and a calf that she feeds from a bottle.

She beat out about 6,000 other high school students in Missouri to take the top prize, which includes airfare to Washington and a hotel for her and a family member. Her grandfather, a veteran of the Vietnam War, was thrilled, and the family decided they would take everyone.

“They want to go out there and be a part of it,” said Amanda Eason, Lydia’s mother, adding: “She’s 14. I’m not going to send her all the way out there without me.”

The farthest the teenager has been from El Dorado Springs was Tennessee, for a family vacation. But she says she stays in the loop about politics by watching the local news as she waits for the school bus in the morning and during conversations around the family dinner table.

“In the VFW world, this is a pretty big deal,” said Roger Floyd, chairman of the VFW scholarship programs in Southwest Missouri. “We’re really excited for her.”

No one from his district had won the state competition before Eason.