Four local students received recognition for their understanding of freedom from the Sertoma Club of Jackson County on Feb 8.

Marlo Cornn, a sixth-grader from St. Ambrose Catholic School in Seymour, was named the winner in the service club’s annual “What Freedom Means to Me” essay contest.

Dylan Wischmeier of Lutheran Central School in Brownstown and Emily Lewis of Brownstown Central Middle School were named runners-up, and Lucy Caudill of Immanuel Lutheran School of Seymour received honorable mention.

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The students and their families were the guests of honor during the Sertoma Freedom Banquet at First United Methodist Church in Seymour. Each student received an American flag set, a pin and a copy of the Constitution, and the winner and runners-up received a monetary award, too.

The flag presented to Cornn was flown over the state capitol in her honor.

All sixth-grade classes in Jackson County were invited to participate in the contest, said event chairman Chuck Seybold. Not all schools, however, chose to participate.

“We had 290 essays turned in this year,” he said.

Some teachers use the essay contest as a class writing assignment.

That was the case for Cornn, whose teacher is Allison Wheeler.

Cornn said she researched the idea and importance of freedom back to July 4, 1776, when America gained its independence and freedom from Britain. But even though many people have fought for that freedom and to protect it, Cornn said not everyone appreciates it enough.

“We often take our freedom for granted,” Cornn said, reading from her essay. “The freedom to go to school, buy what we want, to follow your dream and worship your own religion.”

For Cornn, freedom is having equal rights and being able to choose what she wants in life.

“Freedom, however, does not mean we get everything we want,” she said. “If we want something, we have to work for it and earn it.”

As another resource on freedom, Cornn looked to the U.S. Constitution, which guarantees people have the right to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”

“This means we have the right to live, have equal justice and to be happy,” she said. “This was the starting point of our nation.”

When she gets older, Cornn said she is interested in being an architect, a career she can choose because of her freedom. People living in other countries around the world are not so lucky to have those choices, she said.

“America is known for being the nation where you can be anything,” she said. “Freedom gives us the opportunity to follow our dreams. You can choose your career and what you want to do with your life.”

Also speaking about freedom during the banquet was Jackson County Prosecutor AmyMarie Travis, who provided the keynote address.

Travis said at first, she didn’t think she was the right person to speak on the topic.

“As chief law enforcement officer in the county, I do spend a fair amount of time working to limit or take away the freedom of certain people,” she said. “I sincerely hope as a prosecutor and member of this community that my efforts to restrict the freedom of some actually goes to increase the freedom of others.”

The best way to preserve and perhaps extend our freedoms is by exercising the right to vote, Travis said.

But not enough people go out and vote, she added.

Travis thanked the members of Sertoma for their service to the community and in using the essay contest to instill strong values in young students.

“You are responsible, you are doing right and you are bold in your actions,” she said. “May others, especially the young people that are here being honored, follow in the example and the daily fight to preserve freedom for ourselves and for others.”

The first “What Freedom Means to Me” sponsored by what was then known as the Seymour Sertoma Club was held in the winter of 1973. Fifth-grader Steven Goins, son of Mr. and Mrs. Luther Goins, was the winner. The essay contest was open to fifth- or sixth-graders at that time.

At a glance

Winners in the Sertoma Club of Jackson County’s “What Freedom Means to Me” essay contest

First place: Marlo Cornn, St. Ambrose Catholic School

Runners-up: Dylan Wischmeier, Lutheran Central School; Emily Lewis, Brownstown Central Middle School

Honorable mention: Lucy Caudill, Immanuel Lutheran School

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January Rutherford is a reporter for The (Seymour) Tribune. She can be reached at jrutherford@tribtown.com or 812-523-7069.