Freedom has diverse meanings, specific to the individual who defines it.
Five eighth-graders from local schools were honored Thursday for sharing their definitions during the Fort Dodge Noon Sertoma Club's Freedom Essay Banquet at the Fort Dodge Public Library.
Students from Phillips Middle School, St. Edmond, Prairie Valley, Manson Northwest Webster and the Rabiner Treatment Center were invited to share what freedom means to them in an essay of 500 words or less, Brenda Lastine, contest coordinator, said.
-Messenger photo by Hans Madsen
Jaiden Ackerson, Prairie Valley Middle School eighth-grader, reads her first-place essay, “What Freedom Means to Me.”
"It's been a really nice program," said Lastine. "We had some really wonderful essays this year."
Many teachers use the essay contest as an opportunity for a classroom assignment, Lastine said. Each teacher then selects their top five student essays to submit to the Sertoma Club; they are reviewed by four volunteer judges. Judges then select the top 10 essays, and Lastine adds up scores for each student.
The top five are the winning essays.
The winners read their work before club members, family members and teachers Thursday at a banquet in their honor.
Olivia Hanlon, of Prairie Valley, wrote the fifth-place essay, which focused on the freedom to be individual.
"It means you can be yourself no matter who that is," Hanlon said. "It means you do not have to worry about not being able to chase your dreams."
Hanlon received a $50 savings bond.
From Manson Northwest Webster, Miranda Jud's fourth-place essay also won a $50 savings bond. Jud focused on everyday freedoms that are taken for granted and the people who fought for those freedoms.
"I feel gratitude towards anyone that has ever given their life so that I can have the privilege of using the simple piece of paper and pencil I use every day," said Jud, "and don't even think twice to write down my thoughts and feelings."
Emma Nelsen, of Manson Northwest Webster, earned third place and a $100 savings bond.
"This country is run by the people. This is what freedom is," she said, "the right to have a say in my government and being able to make a change in my country."
Receiving second place and a $200 savings bond was Gretta Leigh, from Phillips Middle School. Leigh focused on personal freedom.
"I can choose my career, who I marry, what college I attend, and pretty much my whole future," said Leigh. "Some countries don't have that freedom."
It was Jaiden Ackerson, a Prairie Valley eighth-grader, who took first place and a $500 savings bond. Her essay focused on the privileges that come with freedom.
"Many people take freedom for granted," she said. "They view freedom as a right, but it is not. Soldiers ultimately pay the price for everyone's freedom. Without freedom we wouldn't be able to obtain an education, find the job of our choice, vote, have a family or live our everyday lives. Freedom is a privilege we must honor."
Manson Northwest Webster students participated in the contest for the first time this year. Melanie Rechkemmer, MNW English instructor said she was pleased with the results.
"This is the first year this was offered to us," said Rechkemmer. "We have 45 essays and to narrow it to five was a challenge, but we were very ecstatic to have two of our kids place."
Nelsen said she was pleased to know her essay had earned third.
"I was pretty excited," she said. "I just kind of started writing and it came to me."
Ackerson and Hanlon kept a tradition of winning essays alive at Prairie Valley, which has had at least one student place in the contest for the past 26 years.
"I wasn't expecting it," said Ackerson. "I just liked being able to come here today and read my essay."
The winning essays will be published in future issues of The Messenger.