CRANFORD, NJ - Students in the eighth-grade Orange Avenue School process writing classes once again participated in the VFW Patriot’s Pen essay contest. Through the writing process students created an essay based on the theme, “The America I Believe In”.

Two students from Orange Avenue School were winners in the VFW District 5 (Union County) level of the Patriot's Pen Essay Writing Contest: first-place, Nora O'Connell in Ann McGovern’s class and second-place, Cassandra LaMastra in Michael Seaman’s class.

McGovern said of O’Connell, "Nora, truly is a model student, always kind and putting her best efforts forward; her words are inspirational and express the America I believe in!"

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As a first-place District 5 level winner, O’Connell’s essay was entered in the VFW Department of New Jersey (State) competition with the other twenty district (county) winners. O’Connell placed second in the State of New Jersey, from more than 5,700 essays entered.

The Patriot’s Pen essay contest is conducted nationwide and gives students an opportunity to write essays expressing their views on an annual patriotic theme. They join the more than 120,000 students who participated last year in this contest. Students are judged on how well they understand, develop, and present the theme in a positive approach.

O'Connell attended the VFW Patriot's Pen Awards Luncheon which honored the winners from around the state Saturday, Feb. 11, in Manville.

In attendance as guests of Cranford VFW Post 335 and VFW District 5 (Union County) were; O’Connell, OAS teacher, Ann McGovern, her parents Ed and Mary O’Connell, her sister Maggie and grandfather, John Boyle.  Representing VFW Post 335 was Post Commander Jay Boxwell and representing VFW District 5 was Chairman Joe McCourt of the Patriot’s Pen essay contest program.

Students were judged on how well they understood, developed and presented the theme, The America I Believe In.  A positive approach was recommended to express their viewpoint in 300 to 400 words. Knowledge of the theme was worth 30 points as students must show a thorough knowledge of the theme in their work. Theme development was worth 35 points as students needed to answer all relevant facts about the theme such as the who, what, where, when and why and relate the theme to their own experiences. Clarity of ideas is worth 35 points as students needed to write their essay in an easy-to-understand format and leave their reader with a clear understanding of their explanation of the theme.

O’Connell’s essay read:
The America I Believe in……

President Harry Truman once declared, “America was not built on fear. America was built on courage, imagination, and an unbeatable determination to do the task at hand”. These words show the America I believe in. From the beginning of this nation, we were never afraid, even when our small thirteen colonies fought against one of the most powerful countries in the world. We, Americans, never stop believing in our country and what we can achieve. Americans stay determined when times get tough, and we never give up.

The America I believe in is a place where you can rise out of poverty and into success. A place immigrants come to find refuge and happiness. Imagine yourself boarding a boat, waving goodbye to your family and the only life you’ve ever known. That is how my grandmother’s American story began. She worked hard and built a life with my grandfather. They ended up raising five children, and yet one of her proudest moments was when she became a U.S. citizen. My grandmother’s story, like so many others, embodies the American spirit of acceptance and equality.

In America, we are sheltered by the fact that service men and women fight for our freedom every day. I believe in a country that respects and honors our veterans for the heroes that they are. Brave soldiers put their lives at risk to protect the American people and many others who are in need from around the world. One example of this bravery is my other Grandfather, who enlisted in World War II in 1941. My Grandpa was in Hawaii, that December morning, when Japanese planes attacked Pearl Harbor. At the end of his service, my Grandpa was awarded the Bronze Star for his courageous actions. His bravery and dedication to this nation, as well as, the actions of so many others is the America I believe in.

            I believe in a country that is strong and stands up to injustice, whether it is affecting us at home or those abroad. America is a nation that is blessed to have thousands of servicemen and women who risk their lives for us every day. We are a country built by immigrants, wishing for a better life. This nation is a place where everyone can succeed. The passion and patriotism for our country is the light that shines in each American. That is the America I believe in.