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Children Define Freedom in Patriotic Essays

By 1st Lt. Steve Alvarez, USA
Special to American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Dec. 2, 2003 – When posed the question of what freedom meant, a 10-year-old student's entry to the Weekly Reader's Operation Tribute to Freedom essay contest gave a thoughtful response, uncharacteristic of a mind that might ordinarily turn to skateboards, baseball and video games.

Kevin Young from San Diego said he wakes each morning to the sound of chirping birds, while a child on the other side of the world probably wakes up to the sound of war.

Text of Kevin Young's Winning Essay, "Freedom"

"I am a ten-year-old boy living in the United States of America — a country that stands for freedom. Today, I woke to the chirping of birds. On the other side of the world, another boy is waking up to the frightening sound of blasting bomb.

"It was a time to go to school so I chose to wear a T-shirt and shorts because I could make that decision. On the other side of the world, a young girl had a choice, too. She could wear a veil or get whipped.

"Then I went to school to learn about our world, including math, English, history and science and technology. 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. For the girl, school was not allowed. But she wanted to learn. So she went to school in secret, but was taking a big risk.

"After school, I went to play soccer and visited with all of my friends. On the other side of the world, the boy and girl went and tried to earn some money or went to look for food and water for their family.

"At night, as I slept in my nice, warm bed, I dreamed of a world filled with freedom for the little boy and girl on the other side of the world."

Young's response was indicative of the challenge faced by contest judges. From more than 8,000 deeply creative and well-written essays sent in by students from across the country, they had to pick only a few winners.

And Young's essay was named the "best of the best," earning him the top prize, a trip to the Pentagon to become a "kid correspondent" in July 2004. Young will file stories for Weekly Reader from Washington.

The students' works were judged on clarity, creativity and language mechanics. First-place winners in each grade will receive $50; second place, $25; and third place, a copy of the 2004 World Almanac and World Almanac for Kids. Weekly Reader judges said it was very difficult to choose winners, because they were all so well written. "We consider all these essays winners. They were really well done," said Weekly Reader editor Mia Toschi.

The Weekly Reader Corp., a publisher of classroom periodicals that reach more than 10 million students each week, sponsored the patriotic essay contest by asking students to submit essays that answered the question: What does freedom mean to you?

"The essays were wonderful," said Emily Swenson, president of Weekly Reader. "Children have very strong opinions about what freedom means and expressed their thoughts very poignantly. Some children discussed the events of 9/11; others spoke about their parents who are stationed overseas." she said.

Air Force Gen. Richard B. Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, expressed to the children in a letter, "We are fortunate to live in a free country, but not all children have that privilege.

"I am glad you are focused on one of our country's greatest values – freedom," he wrote.

"With everyone overseas, it seemed like a good time to do this," Toschi said. "We have a lot of veterans to thank for the freedoms we have in this country. It's a good idea to have kids understand that. I think it's very important."

Toschi said that most essays came from children in nonmilitary families. The Weekly Reader plans to sponsor the essay contest again in the future and next year will sponsor a postcard contest asking kids to define freedom through art.

Winners in the contest are posted on the Weekly Readers Web site. Their excerpts will be published at DefendAmerica.mil.

(Army Reservist 1st Lt. Steve Alvarez was on active duty for DefendAmerica.mil in November.)

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