To many folks, Presidents Day is a holiday marked by mattress and mall sales. But members of the Los Gatos chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution mark the February holiday by awarding prizes to students who have participated in a contest that explores America’s history through essays.
“The purpose is to inspire children to learn about and appreciate our country’s founders and history,” DAR regent Jill Hygelund said.
Ten students were recognized at a Feb. 3 DAR luncheon, where several read their winning essays and accepted American flags and other prizes for their work.
The first place good citizen award was given to Saratoga High School senior Jennie Werner, who wrote on the topic “Our American Heritage and Our Responsibility for Preserving It.” She described how the cultures of two of her friends have changed her life and how she, in turn, has taught them about her family’s traditions.
“When I moved to Saratoga, I was exposed in depth to Indian and Jewish culture for the first time. I went to my friend’s traditional dance class, and the experience piqued my interest in her Indian culture,” Jennie wrote. “Since then I have grown to appreciate her mom’s ethnic cooking and I’ve learned a few phrases in Hindi. On the other hand, my Jewish friend invites me over for Friday night dinners, complete with traditional prayers and Challah bread.”
Jennie and other competitors were given two hours to write their essays, with no opportunity for research–they were handed an envelope with the topic and had to write then and there.
The essays count 30 percent toward an award, with a student’s dependability, leadership, service and patriotism also taken into account.
Jennie’s essay concluded, “No matter our family history, we all value the freedom and opportunity of America. However, these qualities can only be preserved if we continue to share our cultures with others to make this a nation of open-minded and knowledgeable citizens.”
Jennie took home a $200 prize and second-place winner Caroline Fukawa of Presentation High School received $100. Leigh High School’s Caitlin Grimm, Branham High’s Kaeleigh Robitaille and Zoe Nilson from Prospect High were also recognized for their participation.
The DAR contest also involves fifth- to eighth-grade students. They wrote about “The Lives of Children During the American Revolution.” Eighth-grader Hamza Qadeer from the Challenger School’s Almaden campus wrote a “journal” of the life of “William Smith” that begins March 15, 1777–the day William’s father dies as a Revolutionary War prisoner.
“As I went out to the fields today, I saw our neighbor Mr. Matthews limp down the street. He was a healthy man in his early 30s when he left for the war with my father. Now he looked emaciated,” Hamza wrote.
Shortly thereafter, “William” joins the Revolution and writes, “I now lie sick with dysentery at Valley Forge. I may die and never see my family again, and I risked my life and underwent the hardships of war. But the thought that my mother and siblings may live to see the fruits of liberty assures me that my sacrifice was worth it. My fellow soldiers, my father and I gave up everything for freedom. I can only hope our posterity remembers our sacrifice and preserves the freedom we gave so much for.”
Hamza and other elementary student winners received $50, plus a certificate of recognition and an American flag. The seventh-grade winner was Jerry Peng from the Harker School. Other winners were sixth- grader Anusha Ghosh and fifth-grader Quynh Nguyen from Challenger’s Shawnee campus in San Jose.
The winner of the Christopher Columbus essay contest was Archbishop Mitty High School junior Namrata Balasingam. She wrote on the topic “How Do Americans View Christopher Columbus and George Washington Today?”
Namrata discussed the risks both men took to accomplish their objectives and wrote, “The appetite for risk-taking that these two men displayed foreshadowed the distinctly American flair for entrepreneurship that would ultimately earn the United States its exceptionalist [sic] role in the world. Today … the courage, resilience and business acumen of Columbus and Washington should serve to inspire us.”
Washington, by the way, was born on Feb. 22, 1732, and the Washington’s Birthday holiday was established in 1885. In 1971, the holiday was moved to the third Monday in February and renamed Presidents Day as a way to celebrate all presidents. This year, Presidents Day falls on Feb. 17.
For more information about the Daughters of the American Revolution, visit losgatos.californiadar.org.
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