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Winning ‘Americanism’ essay focused on national unity

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SHIRLEY — For several years, American Legion Post 183 has sponsored an “Americanism” essay contest that all the town’s eighth-graders are eligible to enter.

As part of the tradition, the first prize-winner reads the winning essay at the class graduation — In effect, he or she is a keynote student speaker with a patriotic message.

The theme centers on an individual interpretation of what it means to be an American and live in a nation whose constitution aims for equality, liberty and justice.

The award was presented by post Commander Joseph Landry, accompanied by past post commander Michael Flood.

This year’s winner is Robert Andrew Stiling, who read his essay at the Shirley Middle School eighth-grade graduation on June 13.

As one country, under one banner, “we fight for peace and prosperity” throughout the world, he said. That’s one reason America is known for freedom.

“Here, we are free to chose our path,” he said. But along with freedom comes responsibility, including standards we set for other generations to follow.

As one of the world’s “super powers,” America leads the fight for freedom, but only a couple of centuries ago there was no country here to fight for, said Stiling.

The outcome of America’s fight for independence was freedom in a new nation where “religion and race don’t matter,” where people live “free of fear,” he said. “Our unity is our power.”

Unity was tested in 1776, said Stiling, and has been many times since. Recent examples he cited included the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and Hurricane Katrina.

But the turmoil that really challenges America’s unified strength is political, he said. He decried strife between candidates and political parties and called for an end to it.

The speech covered an array of bases, including patriotic convictions and public and personal initiatives that are all part of the ideal American experience.

“I believe that being an American is being active being passionate,” he said. He advised living life to the fullest “without going over the edge.”

The point, he said, is to “be yourself.”

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