What does the flag mean to you?
It’s a question that the Times West Virginian asks hundreds of children in Marion County each school year in an essay contest, which is used in a daily series during the month of June leading up to the Fourth of July.
Each year, the number of submissions grows as teachers use the essay as a writing activity in the days following standardized testing. What started with about 100 essays in its first year, “What the Flag Means to Me” has grown to to several hundred essays submitted each year.
And I love it. I get so excited when large envelopes stuffed full of essays come in. I have a large paper box that sits outside of my office door, and the staff members of the newspaper know to place submissions there.
I run to the box like a kid on Christmas morning and check to see how many “presents” I have. I’ve loved writing since I was quite young. I was an avid reader of fiction, but it was essays and reports that I loved to write. I guess I was made to be a reporter since grade school.
So I just love to read the writings of little ones. Instead of dreading to go through the giant stack of essays, I savor them like an awesome dessert at the end of dinner.
I see something amazing in each essay I read. A wonderful phrasing, a heartfelt reflection, an adorable drawing or even just the cute scrawl of young handwriting. My stack of winners gets way bigger than the available 22 slots. So I read them all again and narrow the list, though it pains me to do it.
Eventually, I get down to what I think is the best representation of the entries I received. Each school is represented, and there is a good mix of grade levels and boys and girls. From several hundred to 22, it’s a monumental undertaking. But it’s an enjoyable task.
I also enjoy the humor — intentional or not — in some of the entries I read. This year, we had a couple of grandparents who fought in the Civil War, one who battled the British and longer, much longer, spans of time between now and when the nation was established.
And then there are the ones that bring tears to my eyes, the ones written by sons and daughters of those who served in the armed forces and whose words are full of pride for that distinction. About 99.9 percent of them are spot on, describing the colors of the flag representing concepts like purity, courage and heroism.
So next week, when you start to see the “What the Flag Means to Me” essays run in the paper, know that every child who submitted one was a winner. With infinite space, I’d share them all with you so that you’d be able to enjoy them as much as I have.
Misty Poe is the managing editor of the Times West Virginian and can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org, on Twitter @MistyPoeTWV or by phone at 304-367-2523.
What does the flag mean to you?
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