Havre Daily News - News you can use

Student wins national honors in essay contest


December 7, 2018

Havre Daily News/Ryan Berry

An award for Wyatt Antonich sits on a table Thursday, December 6, 2018 in Havre, Mont. Antonich, now in high school, was not available to receive the award, so his brother accepted it on his behalf.

St. Jude Thaddeus School honored two of their students Thursday morning for winning divisional and national awards through the American Legion Auxiliary.

The ceremony was held in the gym on St. Jude's campus and awards were presented to Trayden Riley and Wyatt Antonich for their essays on how they can promote Americanism.

Riley wrote his essay in April 2018 when he was in sixth-grade, and the essay was entered at the Class Two level, which required essays to be between 350 and 400 words.

He was surprised when he heard his essay had been chosen as the national winner.

"When I figured out that I had won on the national level, I was very surprised that I actually won," he said. "My teacher, she helped go through most of my essay. The process was very difficult ... and it was very hard to believe that I had won. I was very happy about it. What made me even more surprised was that I was the only person in my class - that Class Two - that won a national level for the whole United States."

Riley added he had difficulty at first trying to grasp what Americanism meant, but that when his teacher - Carly Brunk - explained it to him, the ideas started coming to him.

"I'm extremely proud," Brunk said. "And at such a young age to develop these themes and beliefs into award-winning work is just amazing."

Brunk added that she requires all her students to write an essay and submit it for the contest. She said this is her sixth year of participating with the American Legion Auxiliary.

The essay advanced through four levels - local, state, Northwest Divisional and National - winning at each level. The Northwest Divisional level included entries from Colorado, Minnesota, Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wyoming.

Riley was presented with certificates for the various levels of competition he won along with a trophy for winning at the national level. In addition, the ALA competition cover sheet says the winners get $50 and a $50 donation in their name to the Children of Warriors National Presidents' Scholarship.

Members of the ALA also were on hand at the school for a flag folding demonstration. During the demonstration, member Marlyn Damson explained the meaning of each fold to the students in attendance.

After the demonstration, American Legion member Jed Damson was introduced by St. Jude Principal Mike Haugen. Damson said the American Legion was founded in 1918 and is celebrating 100 years of service this year. He added they are the largest veterans organization in the U.S.

Damson explained to the students how they can get involved with the American Legion and the Auxiliary and serve their community. He then presented Haugen with two books for the school: "Liberation Kuwait" and a book on flag etiquette.

Wyatt Antonich, who won first at divisional level, wrote his essay in eighth grade and is now a freshman at Havre High. He was unable to attend the ceremony due to a conflict with his class schedule, so his brother, Zeke, accepted the award on his behalf.

Marlyn Damson has been involved with the ALA since 2000. She said she got involved after she made a comment to someone that people were not respecting the flag and something should be done. She was told to speak with her local unit, Unit 11, of the American Legion Auxiliary.

She now works to promote respect for veterans and for the flag.

Riley winning on the national level is the highlight of all her years of service, she said. Even winning at the divisional level, she added, "that in itself is a big accomplishment."

"I'm just proud of our essay winner," Marlyn Damson said. "I'm just grateful that St. Jude's is a participant in it."

Anyone interested in learning more about the American Legion Auxiliary can contact Damson at 262-4022.


What I can personally do to promote Americanism in my school or community?

The United States of America is one country that stands for freedom. Many thousands of Americans immigrated here from other countries to pursue their dream for a better life such as, freedom of speech, social equality, preserving culture, and protecting people's rights. Americanism represents those dreams.

Most people show Americanism by recognizing the needs of other people. Many people can't afford clothing, shelter, and food. I can volunteer for fundraisers that raise money for the poor, which help those that can't afford what I can.

Havre Daily News/Ryan Berry

Marlyn Damson, left, shakes hands with American Legion National Essay Contest winner Trayden Riley at St. Jude Thaddeus School Thursday in Havre. Riley is the only student to receive a national award for his essay this year.

Another concept of Americanism, is the right for education. Some kids in my school can't afford to pay for it, so they are granted a scholarship in order to get a good education. I can get a quality education because my family can afford it, and for that I'm grateful. Mentoring or tutoring kids is something I can do to help them if they have trouble learning; even though I'm a kid, I'm not limited. I can take action to help kids who struggle in school.

Everyone has been bullied; it isn't fun. No one should be bullied not for what they are on the outside, like their race or color; it's about the inside. Rights for respect is one of the most important actions of Americanism. Don't discriminate; it is not funny at all. We should think about our actions before we do them.

Americanism is about helping others and taking action for those who are less fortunate or are not treated with respect. I can help kids no matter what race they are, if they're poor, or if the don't get an education as good as mine. That's all I have to do.


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