NPD117 Students Express Themselves in First Amendment Contest
The first amendment to the United States Constitution guarantees all citizens certain inalienable rights, like the right to free speech, religion, expression, assembly and the right to a free press.
The Midwest Anti-Defamation League invited students from six states and more than 230 schools to participate in the 2020 First Amendment Freedoms Art & Essay Contest by writing or illustrating a personal example of how one of the freedoms affects his/her daily lives.
Students participating ranged from sixth grade to seniors in high school.
Conrady Junior High School Eighth-Grade Social Studies Teacher Grant Griffith has been involved in the program for the last 10 years and has seen several of his students win awards for their work.
This year was no different.
Eighth-grader Shannon Earley won a $5,000 college scholarship for her first-place entry in the Junior High Writing category while classmates Hubert Turek was a semi-finalist and Watfa Shihadeh won honorable mention in the Junior High Art category.
“Freedom of speech has affected me daily by exposing me to extreme vitriol and giving me slight paranoia before I post something on social media,” said Shannon, who like most of her peers uses social media, including Instagram and SnapChat. “Freedom of speech is important. It allows us to express our interests, beliefs and ourselves.
“If that social media influencer was not able to post, the people who were going through the same thing wouldn’t have seen it,” she said. “They might not have gotten the help they needed. I do believe that we can help solve this issue of negativity.”
Shannon said “we need to exercise the rest of our rights and create change." “We need to come together to face the hate being spewed from each other’s mouths and hold each other accountable. Then, and only then, can freedom of speech be free of its bonds.”
Hubert drew a picture of a person with a lock on his mouth and a key hanging off to the side. “My drawing illustrated freedom of speech but, in reality, people are often prohibited from speaking freely,” he said. “Everyone has that God-given right to free speech, whether that is speaking or using social media.”
Watfa drew a picture of a woman with the American flag in the background and Jerusalem in the foreground. “As a Muslim, we get judged at times,” she said. “But we still believe America is the land of opportunity and you have the freedom to say what you want without fear of persecution.”
Hubert and Watfa each received a $200 gift certificate for art supplies from Blix.
Griffith reflected on why Conrady has had more than its share of winners over the years.
“I initially thought maybe we were lucky,” he said. “But that’s not it. We truly have some of the most talented and focused kids who are extremely passionate about what they are learning.”