Announcing the Winner of the 2020 Mary Ryan Memorial Essay Contest

Delaware County Indermediate Unit was the proud sponsor of our annual essay contest for Delaware County Middle School Students. This year, the students were asked to interview a family member or a close family friend who has served in any branch of the US military and to write a 200-word essay on this person’s experience. The essay was scored based on adherence to the theme, creativity, and writing conventions.

First Place:

The winning essay was written by Tajkera Afifa, an 8th grader at Beverly Hills Middle School in the Upper Darby School District. Congratulations, Tajkera!

Here is Tajkera’s essay:

My name is Tajkera Afifa, I would like to honor all the veterans who worked and served our country courageously. What is a veteran? If only there was a precise definition of this word. When I think of the word “Veteran”, I envision someone with a big heart, a brave soldier who fought for the land of liberty, hoping that Americans can live happily and freely because of their sacrifices.

I don’t know any veterans personally, so I contacted the Upper Darby American Legion Post 214 and requested an interview. I was able to talk to Mr.Joseph Kelly, a former Sergeant in the US Army. He is currently the Commander of this office. Mr. Kelly started his duty in June 1983 and retired in December 2007. He served as a Platoon Sergeant. There were many places he served Kampovi, Korea, Kaiserslautern, Germany, and he fought in the Battle of Mogadishu also known as “The Black Hawk Down Incident”, in 1993.

The advice he would give to young soldiers is to pay attention to your leadership and never get complacent, ‘Stay Alert! Stay Alive”! This is the motto that his Platoon lived by. Family is a very important component in a soldier’s life. Mr. Kelly missed out on many holidays, birthdays, and sadly also raising his 3 kids because of his commitment and dedication to our nation. His wife, Mrs. Lisa Kelly, also deserves tons of respect and love, because she raised her kids all by herself. Even though there were tough times, she handled it, and never gave up.

Sometimes I try to think about being in the shoes of a soldier. Having to leave your loved ones, risking your life, and sometimes even thinking about not making it to another day, seems very scary, but they always know they are doing it for the nation they love, honor, and respect! These brave souls who fought for us heroically endangered their own life just to keep us safe. Veterans are the reason America is a great country. God Bless the USA!

“To all the Veterans, Thank you for keeping us all safe. Thank you for risking your life just to save mine. Thank you for fighting for our freedom. Thank you to all the veterans, We are forever grateful for your valorous service to the USA! Veterans can walk with pride and fame knowing what they have done for America. We Honor and Salute all our heroic veterans for their devotion to our country!”

Second Place:

The second-place essayist is Cadie Thomas, a 6th grader at Springton Lake Middle School in Rose Tree Media School District. Amazing job, Cadie!

Have you ever really thought about how important veterans are? They are brave, strong, committed, and courageous! My dad, a Marine Corp veteran, risked many things serving our country. It was a long time in the Marines, a wild journey, and a stressful time.

October 1999 to October 2008- training and war. Getting ready for war required a tremendous amount of dedication. My dad was training to be a Marine, a 1371 Combat Engineer- Sergeant. My father, Rob Thomas, served two tours in Iraq for OIF I and I. My dad’s advice for young veterans is: “It is very difficult for young veterans coming home from a combat zone. You need to make sure you surround yourself with a strong support network of friends and family. There are many organizations that have been created to support returning veterans. In addition, the military has created many programs to help veterans dealing with combat-related issues and to transition into civilian life.”

At war, there were many stressful moments, memorable moments, frightful moments, and depressing moments. My dad’s experience serving in the military was both very challenging and rewarding. He said he would do it all over again. According to him, “I was proud to serve my country and help liberate the Iraqi people from the dictator rule of Saddam Hussien. There were many hard times and difficult situations, but it helped shape me into the man I am today. During war, we conducted security operations, worked with Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) teams to destroy unexploded ordnance, and build and repair bridges. It was definitely a shock coming from the US to Iraq. There were significant stresses when compared to life back home I went from college spring break to jumping into bunkers in order to avoid rocket and mortar attacks. In addition, we faced threats every time we left the wire due to potential IED attacks. I lost several of my close friends during these deployments and I still think about them daily. With all the hardships, a group of men came together to complete our missions, and do our duty for our country.” I am so thankful for all the veterans that have served our country and risked their lives for us. Many have made the ultimate sacrifice for the love of our great country and to protect our freedoms.

Third Place:

Our third-place winner is Mackenna Linksky who is an 8th grader at E.T. Richardson Middle School in the Springfield School District. Great work, Mackenna!

After witnessing the horrific events of 9/11, my uncle, Jeff Sanders, decided to join the military in 2003. Consequently, he became a part of the Marine Corps as a machine gunner and was ranked as a Lance Corporal. Sixteen years ago, he was deployed to fight in the bloody Iraq War.

However, his expectations of making a career out of the military were crushed when he was gravely wounded by an improvised explosive device. Sanders lost one of his legs and was medically retired. This disheartening event caused his life to spiral downward. He turned to detrimental coping mechanisms like drinking. But in Sanders’ case, once he hit rock bottom, the only place to go was up.

Following many months of addiction and depression, Sanders felt a newfound determination. He received support that allowed him to recover. The Semper Fi Foundation provided him with funds to cover his father’s commuting, and my dad, an architect, designed a special shower that would cater to Sanders’ injury.

Sanders is now a proud veteran with a loving family of his own. He advises, “I’ve become stronger because of what I’ve overcome. I’ve learned discipline, leadership, perseverance, and commitment. I wouldn’t change anything.”

We want to thank everyone who submitted their work for this year’s essay contest.