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Stephens wins statewide essay competition

Maddie Stephens, an eighth-grader at Farragut Middle School, has aspirations to become a writer someday, and she is well on her way.

Maddie received word Thursday, Jan. 13, that she is the state winner of the Department of Tennessee Veteran of Foreign Wars Patriot’s Pen Essay Competition.

“The contest was to write a small essay, 300 to 400 words, on ‘Does Patriotism Still Matter?’ and I thought it was a really interesting topic,” Maddie said.

FMS language arts teacher Lauren Byrd recommended the contest to Maddie.

“She had seen some of my past work and thought I might want to do it. And I did. I wanted to voice my opinion,” Maddie said.

“She is also really interested in history so she makes it a point to make sure we understand the importance of significant historical events, and she is very patriotic. She got the information from them and asked if I was interested,” she added.

Each year VFW chooses a different essay topic. This year’s topic was “Does Patriotism Still Matter?”

“Of course it does,” Maddie said of the essay question.

“Without patriotism … if no one cares for the country they are not going to try to advance it and make it a better place. So I just explained that view in the essay and tried to show that it really does matter and that we need patriotism in order to be a strong nation,” she added.

The contest is open to sixth-, seventh- and eighth-grade students enrolled in public, private or parochial schools in the United States and its territories, as well as home-schooled students and dependents of U.S. military or civilian personnel in overseas schools.

Maddie first won the contest for her district, and following her state win, will represent Tennessee in the national competition, where she will compete for several national prizes including the first-place prize of a $10,000 savings bond.

More than 120,000 students participated in the district contests nationwide. The national competition will consist of one winner from each state and territory. The top 46 winners will win at least a $1,000 savings bond.

Contestants are judged on how well they understand, develop and present the theme. Knowledge of the theme is worth 30 points, theme development is worth 35 points and clarity of ideas is worth 35 points.

“When I won district, I was like, ‘Oh, that is kind of cool, but probably not a lot of people entered.’ But then when I won state, I was like, ‘That is out of all the districts in Tennessee and they picked mine.’ So I was pretty excited,” Maddie said.

“They are having a dinner in Nashville and they asked me and my parents to go and stay at the Music City Hotel. We will go to a dinner and that is where I will be presented with my award,” she added.

Although Maddie will not qualify for next year’s Patriot’s Pen competition, she plans to look into the possibility of entering the high school competition, “Voice of Democracy.”

“There are college scholarships involved with that, so I will probably look into that to see if that is something I would be interested in too,” she said.

Prizes in “Voice of Democracy” consist of more than $2.2 million in education scholarships, with the national winner being awarded a $30,000 scholarship paid to the American university, college or vocational/technical school of their choice. Other national scholarships range from $1,000 to $16,000.

Maddie is the daughter of Knox County Schools behavioral liaison Lynette Stephens and Knox County Public Defender for Sixth Judicial District Mark Stephens. She is a dedicated ballet dancer and also a member of the Village Green Swim Team.


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