Fifth, sixth, seventh and eighth grade students from Whitehall and Fair Haven were asked to answer the question, “What the National Anthem Means to Me,” all in 250 words or less.
“It was quite a history lesson to read the essays,” said Tammy Stevens, who organizes the local contest each year. “The National Anthem was written in 1814 during the War of 1812 by Francis Scott Key. It’s said the Ticonderoga that was raised from this end of Lake Champlain about 50 years was from that war.
How did I learn that….reading the essays.”
Although organizers reach out to local teachers, the contest is not part of their curriculum and students write the essays on their own time.
Each of the essays was read by a panel of four judges comprised of members of the Elks Lodge and the community, who evaluated each student’s writing based on their response to the question.
This year’s panel included Stevens, Julie Eagan, exalted ruler of the elks and town village justice, Jill Gilman, and town Supervisor George Armstrong.
After reading each essay, judges removed the ones they deemed most worthy and the ones that made the cut were read aloud and given a numerical score until the submissions were whittled down to the top 10 and eventually the top three.
The students who wrote the top 10 essays in each division (Division I consisted of students in grades 5 and 6 while Division II is made up of students in grades 7 and 8) were treated to a pizza and bowling party earlier this month.
The top three essays from each division are forwarded to the district level and from there finalists can move on to the regional and national levels.
Whitehall has had several finalists advance to the state level during the past several years.
The top national finalists will receive a $1,000 savings bond.
Paul Henry was the winner of the Elks Essay Contest in the seventh and eighth grade division. Below is his essay.
The national anthem is a song that we sing to represent our country. It is a song to show respect to our forefathers who fought for this country and to the soldiers who are still fighting. I like to sing the national anthem because it makes me feel good when I sing it. Sometimes I see people singing the national anthem and they cry. That shows me that it is not just a song, but words with deep meaning. Millions of people all over the country can sing this song together, it brings strength and unity.
It is a song that all generations have shared and will continue to share now and in the future. It ties in with our flag, which also is a symbol of respect for this country. This is the land of the free, as said in the national anthem, such as freedom of speech and freedom of religion. I’m glad this anthem has survived many generations, and no one has decided to change or “do away with it,” like some of our other traditions, such as trying to take the word God out of certain songs and even cutting out celebrating holidays in school. Living in America is a gift and when Americans get together and unite and sing the national anthem, you can feel the heart felt joy and commitment, and for a few minutes we are in all agreement.
To me the National Anthem makes me feel strong when I sing it, because I feel like I have a country standing with me, but most of all I feel proud.
Caitlin St. Germain was the winner in the fifth and sixth grade division. Below is her essay.
The national anthem is the nation’s song. This song is written by Francis Scott Key in 1814. The national anthem is important and special to me.
The national anthem is important to me because when I hear it I think of how lucky I am to be an American. I think of all of those who have serving for our country’s freedom. In the last line of the song it says: “O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave.” This is my favorite line because when the soldiers were in the war they fought and fought until we got what they wanted, freedom.
The national anthem is special to me because when I am standing there with my hand on my heart, it is always at a special time and place. At the beginning of a sporting event, the Olympics and when we are honoring those who served or those who have fallen in action. To me this song is a symbol of country’s freedom and our rights. I honor and look up to those that have served. These people that have served are inspiring. When I hear this song I think of how they never gave up.
When I hear the national anthem it makes me feel proud because I am American. I am free! I honor the flag and those who have served for our country.