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Weekly Reader Essay Winner Meets Rumsfeld

By Sgt. 1st Class Doug Sample, USA
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, July 1, 2004 – He loves soccer, swimming practicing the piano, and he runs almost daily -- 200 miles this year. Now Kevin Young, 11, has found another way to excel: writing.

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Kevin Young, 11, of San Diego won the grand prize to the Weekly Reader's "What Freedom Means to Me" essay contest. For his effort, the fifth-grader won an all-expenses-paid trip to Washington, $50 and a private visit with Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld. Photo by Sgt. 1st Class Doug Sample, USA

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Earlier this year, the fifth grader wrote the winning essay in a nationwide contest. His entry beat out more than 8,000 others in the Weekly Reader "What Freedom Means to Me" essay contest.

As the contest's grand prize, Kevin and his family enjoyed an expenses-paid trip to Washington for a tour of the Pentagon and a private visit with Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld. The secretary presented Kevin with a coin and a Defense Department baseball cap.

During his visit with the secretary, the youngster at first seemed nervous, but that feeling soon vanished once the secretary started showing off his collection of mementos and photos of his family.

Kevin's essay speaks of the freedom he enjoys as a United States citizen, and of the peace here that he wants the whole world to share. He said that freedom in the United States allows people to speak their mind. "In Iraq, they killed people who do not believe what they believe."

Kevin said he was inspired to write the essay after seeing the difficult life that children on "other side of the world" faced. "And I compared what was happening in this part of the world, and what freedoms I had and what freedoms they had," he said.

In a part of Kevin's essay he described the difference:

"Then I went to school to learn about our world, including math, English, history and science and technology," he wrote. "I was learning how to make the world a better place. On the other side of the world, a boy was learning how to fight in combat and survive or be killed."

Kevin said world peace is an important part of his essay. "You have to be friendly to one another to keep the world from chaos," he said.

The contest winner and his classmates at Jerabek Elementary School in San Diego entered the contest on the urging of their English teacher, who made the essay a homework assignment. He said he felt really lucky to win the contest because his essay beat out so many entries. Although Kevin said winning the essay contest was luck, the folks at Weekly Reader disagree. They say Kevin's essay actually was very good.

Mia Toschi, a writer and editor for the magazine, read through thousands of essays from across the country. What struck her most about Kevin's submission was that "it touched on the innocence of a child," she said.

"It was simple, and spoke from the heart," she added. "And that's really one of the reasons he was chosen. He explained it very well, and it was very beautifully written, very poignantly done."

Patrick Young said that when his son started the essay, it was right about when U.S. troops had gone into Afghanistan. "And there was a lot on the news about how the kids there were treated in their schools, so it was pretty observant on how he just picked up on the news."

Karen Young, said her reaction was of great surprise. "For him to be selected as a fifth grader was pretty astonishing," she said.

"He (Kevin) really got to express what he felt. It was like a 10-year-old opinion on what's going on in the world," said his 14-year-old sister, Kristy.

The Young family is still taking all of Kevin's fame in. The boy has been profiled on San Diego television news, and his essay will be part of a book of essays that Weekly Reader is planning to publish.

He also won a $50 prize for his efforts, money that he said went into his piggy bank.

The family will finish of the holiday weekend in Washington, touring the monuments before leaving for New York to visit family there. Karen Young said her son's essay afforded the family a free vacation that they really needed.

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Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld
Essay Contest Asks Students to Express 'What Does Freedom Mean to You?'

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Essay Contest Asks Students to Express 'What Does Freedom Mean to You?'

Click photo for screen-resolution imageKevin Young, 11, signs the guest book at the 9/11 Memorial during a July 1 tour of the Pentagon. Young won the Weekly Reader's "What Freedom Means to Me" essay contest. His essay was selected from among more than 8,000 entries. Photo by Sgt. 1st Class Doug Sample, USA  
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