CHARLESTON -- Practicing your religion and dressing as you want are examples of how the United States allows people "the opportunity to be what we want to be."
That's what Makenzie Pamperin believes, and she's also grateful for "heroic veterans" who help ensure those freedoms are in place.
"I am filled with joy to live in the United States, where I know I can live freely," the Charleston Middle School seventh-grader said Friday. "Because we are free, I am forever thankful for soldiers and veterans. These heroes are America's gift to my generation."
Makenzie shared her thoughts on the topic "America's Gift to My Generation" by reading from an essay during the school's annual Veterans Day assembly.
Her essay was the first-place winner in a contest sponsored by the Charleston Veterans of Foreign Wars Post No. 1592.
There were 36 entries from CMS this year and Makenzie's essay and the second-place winner, written by eighth-grader Emma Jane Bickford, advance to a district event for a chance to qualify for state and national competitions.
"This school has participated for more years than I can remember and they always do a good job," VFW post Chaplain Dale Downs said during the awards presentation.
In her second-place essay, Emma also mentioned freedoms and said the "heroes" who help protect include many people. They come from many professions, especially "brave soldiers" who "choose to live their lives with love and determination," she said.
"We are surrounded by freedom," Emma said. "Our liberties have not been taken away from us. Today, we remember and cherish our liberties, soldiers and veterans."
Third place in the essay contest went to eighth-grader Logan Beals, while seventh-grader Josh Sipes had the fourth-place essay and eighth-grader Lindsy Mills had the fifth-place entry.
Friday's assembly also featured other traditional highlights of the event, including recognition of some Charleston school district employees who served in the military.
The honorees this year were Craig Boone, a Charleston High School health and PE teacher and coach who served in the Army; Mike Lang, custodian at Mark Twain Elementary School and also an Army veteran; and Richard Drake, a CMS custodian who served in the Marine Corps.
Each staff member, described by CMS Principal Tim Keefe as "dedicated to our country, our community and our school district," received a U.S. flag from the VFW post.
Several students had family members or other veterans as guests at the assembly and each veteran received a medallion and was recognized for his or her years of military service.
CMS student council member Kirsten Drake announced that the school raised about $300 to donate to the VFW post.
"Veterans and family members: Thank you for sharing your stories with us today," she said.