Riverbank High School ninth graders Ryan Choeb, Katie Larson, Alondra Valdez, Angelina Moreno, Carlos Aguilera and Genevieve Peterson made it to the top 20 in the annual Stanislaus County Peace Essay Contest. The students are all part of teacher Stacy Blevins’ English class.
In 2014, the 100th Anniversary of an unusual occurrence that took place during World War I was marked. On Christmas Day, soldiers on both sides spontaneously put aside their weapons and met in No-Man’s Land between the lines of battle. There they sang Christmas carols, shared holiday treats and family photos, played soccer and wished each other well. This welcome “breather” from the intensity of fighting became known as “The Christmas Truce.” After a time, both sides went back to fighting at their commanders’ orders, but the soldiers’ world-view had changed in their meeting of the “enemy.” This wartime experience has been told, written about and immortalized in the Christmas in the Trenches song and children’s book by singer-songwriter John McCutcheon.
Students that participated in the contest had to listen to the Christmas in the Trenches song and think about what allowed those soldiers to temporarily lay aside their differences. Then they researched other real life situations in which people or groups who were in conflict or considered themselves to be adversaries, made a decision to lay aside their differences and focus on common ground or work toward a common goal.
Students had to choose an example to write about in 500 to 1000 words which had to include: descriptions of the two sides and what caused them to think they were adversaries; what happened that helped them to shift their thinking and allowed them to get along if only for a time or for a particular purpose; how their experience of finding common ground could inspire others do the same; how learning about this experience may give you the courage to reach toward common ground in situations you may face in the future, and thus help to build a more just and peaceful world.
Also taking some honors, local students got involved as the Riverbank Rotary Club recently hosted its 2014-2015 Speech Contest with the topic: “Dream, Act, Win, Now” at Perko’s Café in Riverbank. The speech had to be five minutes long and had to include how Rotarians change lives through their activities in local and international communities.
The speeches were judged on: quality of thought, vocal delivery, overall effectiveness, organization of thought, physical delivery, length of speech, and was Rotary included within the speech.
The students were treated to a free breakfast and presented their speech to the Rotarian judges. Eli Vernon won first place and received a prize of $125 and he will move on to the next speech competition, this time at the regional level. Stephanie Zarate won second place and received $100. Jesus Aguiniga took the third place prize and received $75 and Oscar Martin was fourth place, receiving an honorable mention.