When Aimee Breeden received a $100 check in the mail a couple weeks ago, she was puzzled. After all, it’s not like the 11-year-old has a source of income aside from her basic job – being an outstanding student at College Lane Elementary School.
And the fact that the American Legion had written the check didn’t shed more light on the issue. The sixth-grader had already collected $50 from the Hobbs American Legion Auxiliary back in March for writing an essay on patriotism that was chosen as the best in its category from schools all over the city. So Breeden pondered the money and ways in which to spend it – saving for an iPod touch seem first and foremost – not realizing until later that her essay had made its way from competition at the local level in Hobbs to the state level – and then to regional competition.
The result was a first place Western Division championship for Breeden, whose words on the subject, “What is my Patriotic Role as a U.S. Citizen,” were deemed a winner among students from New Mexico Alaska, Hawaii, Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Arizona, California, Nevada and Utah.
“When they said it was the best in 10 states I got super excited because so many people had entered the contest,” Breeden said Tuesday. “I thought it was a pretty good essay, but I didn’t think it was going to be good enough to win that high in Hobbs even.”
Kay Bryan, secretary for the local auxiliary unit and chairman of the American Legion Americanism program, said there was no doubt that Breeden was the 5th and 6th grade division winner in the Hobbs portion of the contest. A panel of judges who spent nearly two weeks evaluating more than 600 essays gave it a unanimous first-place rating. But even Bryan was surprised to see a local student win a regional competition, the first that she’s aware of in her 18-year affiliation with the auxiliary. “When I got that certificate, I was so excited about somebody from Hobbs winning,” Bryan said. “It just makes it all worthwhile when you see that the contest affects these kids and it makes them start thinking about patriotism.”
Breeden’s teacher, Colleen Smart, said she saw the intellectual wheels turning the minute she announced the essay contest to her fifth-grade class last school year. “The day I made the assignment, (Aimee) was just excited about it,” Smart said. “She went home and went online and got lots of information and brought it back to the classroom. We had so many good discussions because of the information she was bringing in.”
Breeden estimates she spent more than a week researching the Constitution and Declaration of Independence, then set about the task of siphoning data into a theme limited to 300 words. What she came up with was a 299-word typewritten document that mixed research with some of her personal experiences.
For instance, Breeden concluded that voting is one of the most precious rights a citizen can possess. “I found out that’s it’s important to vote so that you can keep the freedoms that you have today,” Breeden said. “If somebody wants to take that freedom away, then you can vote for somebody else.”
And the fact that her cousin is currently stationed in Iraq brought home the personal sacrifices soldiers throughout history have made to preserve the rights guaranteed by the Constitution.
As a result of her research, Breeden did more than write an essay. She got serious about a campaign of sending care packages overseas. She joined the National Rifle Association with her dad in order to exercise one of those fundamental constitutional rights. And when the news came that Breeden had written the best American Legion Americanism essay in her age group in 10 states, she accepted a certificate from Bryan in front of College Lane fifth and sixth-graders, overcoming a case of stage fright to read her composition aloud to them. “I was really nervous,” Breeden said. “I didn’t want to breathe into the microphone because then it would make a weird sound. But I think I did okay.”
As for the future, the sixth-grader said she enjoyed the research process and foresees herself doing more writing, along with her other hobbies - diving and playing softball. But a political career is up in the air. “I don’t think I want to do politics,” Breeden explained, “because I want to do something I understand.”