St. Ambrose student named winner of Sertoma essay contest


Gabby Cornn believes freedom is much more than just a word.

When asked to write about what freedom means to her, the St. Ambrose Catholic School sixth-grader said she didn’t have to think about it very long before the words came to her.

“Everyday freedom is taken for granted. I think anyone could be accused of this on any given day,” Cornn wrote. “Freedom is so much more than the average American knows.”

She said walking down the street and seeing harmony in race may not stand out to everyone, but even this is something American soldiers worked hard for.

“As a female, I’m thankful every day that I have the freedom to learn in school with the same education as the opposite gender,” Cornn wrote. “Knowing that women in history fought for us and women still fight for equality helps me be even more grateful for my freedom to learn as a female.”

Her essay was entered in the Sertoma Club of Jackson County’s annual What Freedom Means to Me essay contest by her teacher, Julie Lemming. All sixth grade classes in the county were invited to participate. Some teachers use the essay contest as a class writing assignment.

There were 99 entries received, down from past years. Each one was reviewed, and the Sertoma members wound up selecting Cornn’s essay as the best in the county, awarding her first place.

She was asked to read her essay aloud Thursday evening during the club’s Freedom Banquet at First United Methodist Church in Seymour.

Cornn said freedom is a gift given by the brave soldiers and activists who help form the equality and freedom we have today.

“Freedom, to me, is being able to praise God freely and to learn in school. So thank you to the ones who fought for my freedom,” she said.

Cornn was surprised when she was named the winner at the banquet, but she is not the first in her family to receive the honor. Her sister, Marlo Cornn, was the essay winner in 2017. Their parents are Bret and Holly Cornn of Seymour.

Students recognized as runners-up were Gabbie Sarver from St. Ambrose Catholic School, Kinsey Reed from the Seymour Middle School Sixth Grade Center and Annabelle Mathena from Brownstown Central Middle School.

The students and their families were the guests of honor during Thursday night’s banquet. Each student received an American flag, a pin and a monetary award.

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

Sarver wrote about how America is different from other countries because the people have more privileges and rights.

“One of the things that we learn early on is there are consequences to any choices we make, for our gain or for our harm,” she wrote. “To me, freedom means the ability to make choices. This is because we have the freedom to control our actions.”

Sarver said freedom means being able to control her own future and live her own way, which means living for others.

Her essay also was submitted by Lemming.

“It’s an honor to have two of my students here tonight, and I take no credit for this,” Lemming said. “Both are accomplished young ladies and are talented writers and a joy to have in my classroom.”

Mathena’s essay was sent in by her teacher, Madison McGinnis.

In her essay, Mathena wrote that when she thinks of July 4, 1776, she thinks of chains falling and the chance to express yourself how you want to be expressed or known.

She wrote the religion you have also reveals who you are.

“I am glad that when I think of freedom I think of the religion I get to practice,” Mathena wrote. “Without the right to have a religion, I would lose a huge way to be myself.”

She said because of freedom, she can accomplish many things, and she’s proud to be an American citizen because she has the freedom to express herself.

Maria Hauersperger’s student, Reed, wrote that freedom means having the power to make your own decisions and being in complete control of our lives.

“Freedom is many things all combined to create a wonderful idea that allows us to do what we want to do and live how we want to live,” she said. “Freedom is why the United States is the best country in the world.”

Serving as the banquet’s keynote speaker, Jackson Superior Court I Judge AmyMarie Travis-Lucas said when exploring the question of how we can preserve our freedoms, she looks to the thoughts of others on the topic, like great scholars, great philosophers and great politicians.

Lucas said she always ends up with the same three people in mind. One of them is Eleanor Roosevelt, who was the longest-serving first lady.

“Eleanor Roosevelt said, ‘Freedom makes a huge requirement of every human being. With freedom comes responsibility. For the person who is unwilling to grow up, the person who does not want to carry his own weight, this is a frightening prospect,’” Lucas said. “She used her stature as first lady at the time to protect those who were least protected by society.”

Another person Lucas said she looks to is Peter Marshall, who was a Scottish-American preacher and pastor of New York Avenue Presbyterian Church in Washington, D.C. He also was appointed as chaplain of the U.S. Senate.

Lucas quoted the words of Marshall, “May we think of freedom, not as the right to do as we please but as the opportunity to do what is right.”

The third person Lucas referred to was poet Robert Frost, who once said, “Freedom lies in being bold.”

Lucas was presented with a plaque by Sertoma member Scott Davis on behalf of the club, recognizing her as an honorary member.

Lucas also received the Service to Mankind Award by club President Ryan Begley. The recipient must exemplify Sertoma values by devoting time and effort toward the people of the community and is the club’s highest honor.

The club’s essay contest will be held again in the fall.

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