Four students in the Pewaukee School District are winners of the 2016 Pewaukee Veterans of Foreign Wars Post essay contest.
Three Asa Clark Middle School students, eighth-graders Emily Thomas and Isabelle Yuskis, along with seventh-grader Khadijah Dhoondia, submitted the winning written essays, which discussed the theme "The America I Believe In."
Pewaukee High School 10th-grader Lydia Heinen won for her audio essay on the theme "My Responsibility to America."
The students will be honored at an 8 p.m. ceremony Jan. 18 at the Pewaukee VFW Post.
Each student focused on a topic that appealed to him or her while following the theme of the essay requirements. Thomas' and Dhoondia's essays talked about selflessness and bravery.
Thomas mentioned the Bible verse "Love your neighbor the same as you love yourself" and focused on how the America she believed in was a place where people rallied together to provide support and comfort during tragedies. She described the Pewaukee community's support for Ashlyn Flegel, who died after a car hit her while she was on her bike.
Thomas also wrote about a dentist she learned about in a social studies class, Dr. Edwin Smith. Smith is a dentist in rural Kentucky who opened a dentist office in his trailer for kids who couldn't afford dental care, and had helped more than 43,000 kids. In addition, Thomas wrote about the support America provided to France after the November 2015 terrorist attacks and to Iraq.
Dhoondia wrote about being grateful for the freedoms America provides, as well as the bravery exhibited by those such as veterans, firefighters and even her own parents, who emigrated from India to start their lives in the United States.
Dhoondia also wrote about the diversity in America and how it helped her to appreciate people of different backgrounds and heritages. She mentioned that she has family in India, Dubai, London and Canada.
Dhoondia concluded her essay with these words:
"As Americans, we are fortunate to be living in a free, courageous, and diverse environment. We are capable of making choices and receiving education. Our country stands for bravery represented by veterans, residents and parents. We are diverse, with citizens from all over the world. This is the America I believe in: We are strong unitedly, but unique as individuals. The national anthem stands as evidence we all may be different, but together we sing for and make up our country. It is together we have always been the land of the free, and home of the brave."
Yuskis wrote about embracing and respecting diversity, as well as granting freedom to everyone. She also wrote about the importance of the American flag and what it represents. Yuskis also wrote about respecting the flag and each other, and wrote that Americans must join together in respecting diversity to become the America she believes in.
The flag's meaning is personal to Yuskis, whose great-grandfather was a World War II veteran. She said that she had read the book "Unbroken," and it made her realize how many people support the flag and sacrificed for it, along with people who help the economy grow.
"The America I believe in will just continue to grow and prosper and realize that respecting the flag is very important because you're respecting everybody in this country, and in a sense, all the people who gave up their lives and things for the flag," Yuskis said.
Heinen recorded an audio essay for "My Responsibility to America." She said in her essay that she was grateful for those who had served the country. Heinen referred to a project in which she conducted a video interview with a World War II veteran last summer for the Bell Tower Memorial Project. She learned about his time in the armed forces and why he enlisted.
"We always hear from teachers and parents how selfless these people are," Heinen said, "but just to listen to him and even all the other interviewers, these people didn't talk as if they weren't afraid to do anything. They talked about as it was what they had to do, and they enjoyed every moment of being able to help their country. So when I heard that, I knew that there was something I had to do. When I heard that the topic this year was 'My Responsibility to America,' I was like 'Well that goes perfectly with what I did over the summer.'"