Laurens County School District 55 (LCSD 55) students participated in the Martin Luther King, Jr. (MLK) Essay Writing and Public Speaking Competition sponsored by the Sanders Alumni Association and the City of Laurens. MLK is known for his fight for Civil Rights in the United States. In celebration of MLK’s accomplishments and vision for America, the Sanders Alumni Association, the City of Laurens, and LCSD 55 began a partnership in 2022 to hold the MLK Essay Writing and Public Speaking Competition.
Laurens Elementary School Principal Dr. Carlos Littlejohn is delighted with this continued partnership between LCSD 55, the Sanders Alumni Association, and the City of Laurens. Dr. Littlejohn said, “I believe it’s important for students to participate in the MLK Essay Contest because it can fundamentally be used as a mechanism to engage students more about Dr. King’s life, legacy, and vision of equality, morality, and social justice.”
This academic year, LCSD 55 students in grades 3-8 were invited to participate in the competition as early as October 2023. “Living the Dream: It starts with me- Spreading Hope, Courage, and Unity” is this year’s topic. In early November 2023, students researched and wrote their essays. Contestants adhered to high standards of writing and word count limits. The students’ essays were reviewed by a committee of teachers at each school. The committee at each school selected semifinalists- the top three essays from each grade level- and submitted those to the Sanders Alumni Association MLK Essay Committee on November 30, 2023.
The Sanders Alumni Association MLK Essay Committee determined the finalists by mid-December 2023. Semifinalists and finalists were encouraged to rewrite their pieces to prepare them to present to the members of the Laurens Community. These students were also given the opportunity to read their written pieces during school morning announcements in the first weeks of January 2024.
Thirteen elementary students and fourteen middle school students were invited to do a formal presentation of their essays at the MLK Day Celebration Luncheon held on Saturday, January 13, 2024, at the Laurens County Museum. Students were judged on the overall content of their essays, as well as their poise, appearance, voice, and presentation.
The overall winners of the MLK Essay Writing and Public Speaking Competition Elementary Division are Joseline Clardy (First Place, 3rd-grader at Laurens Elementary School), Jonathan Ortiz-Orellana (Second Place, 3rd-grader at Laurens Elementary School), and Nora Cody (Third Place, 5th-grader at Laurens Elementary School). The overall winners of the MLK Essay Writing and Public Speaking Competition Middle School Division are Elijah “Eli” Lauer (First Place, 8th-grader at Laurens Middle School), CorissaGreen (Second Place, 8th-grader at Hickory Tavern School), and Kadyn Jordan (Third Place, 8th-grader at Hickory Tavern School). First Place winners received $100 each, Second Place winners received $75 each, and Third Place winners received $50 each.
First Place winners Joseline and Eli shared their thoughts and feelings about being part of the competition. Joseline said, “I learned that I sound good speaking and I am a good public speaker. I also think my experience will help me become a writer in the future.”
Eli said, “This contest allowed me to learn many things about Martin Luther King, Jr. and his impact on our community. I also learned to have more confidence in my voice. I would like to thank my English 1 Honors teacher, Ms. Bradshaw, along with other teachers, who supported my entry. Most of all, I would like to thank my mom for her guidance with my presentation and speaking in front of a crowd.”
District and school administrators, parents, grandparents, and other community members who attended the luncheon had positive things to say about the competition and the students. Mary Clardy, Joseline’s grandmother, said, “Words can’t express how I feel. I’m so proud of all the students and I’m very proud to see Joseline participate and win.”
Eli’s mother, Brooke Lauer, shared, “I think the Martin Luther King, Jr. Essay Writing & Public Speaking Competition is a wonderful opportunity for students to study about the history of our country which has influenced the way we live our lives today. Who better than MLK, an amazing and passionate speaker, to research while practicing speech writing and public speaking? I am so impressed by Eli and all of the students who bravely stood at the podium and presented their thoughts with poise and passion.”
Eli’s father, Daniel Lauer, said, “It is important to participate in events like the MLK Essay Writing Competition to learn more about our country’s history. The more we can study and think critically about events that have shaped our world, the better off future generations will be as they grow into leaders.”
LCSD 55 District Attendance Supervisor and Sanders Alumni Association Member Marian C. Miller said, “The students were outstanding! Every year the competition is improving and it shows the teachers and students worked hard. It is wonderful to have this competition because students discover through research our country’s struggles and learn where we come from and where we are.”
Dr. Littlejohn witnessed the students’ presentation at the MLK Day Celebration Luncheon and the writing process that the teachers and students at LES undertook together. He expressed his appreciation for their hard work. He said, “I would be remiss if I didn’t thank the third through fifth-grade teachers at Laurens Elementary School for diligently ensuring that their students submitted essays. Although there were only three winners, all students conducted substantial research and delivered powerful messages to share, preserve, and apply Dr. King’s teachings. Through this activity, I was elated that students were able to understand that Dr. King was a visionary and an unwavering beacon of light for the marginalized and underprivileged, especially during a tempestuous time of civil unrest and irresolute darkness. I believe students were able to see that he was a moral compass for those who seemingly lost hope and felt that society left them emotionally and socially destitute. I would like to send a special thank you to the winners’ teachers (Jennifer Allen, Kerry Gambrell, and Kristin Turner) for their inspiration, encouragement, and humility.”
Sanders Alumni Association MLK Essay Committee Member Harold Ligon also expressed his admiration and appreciation for everyone involved in the competition. He said, “We were extremely pleased with the hard work of District 55 students, supported by teachers, parents, and district administration in preparation for this year’s MLK essay/public speaking competition. We are very proud of all our student participants and encourage them to keep up the good work. Seeing such outstanding potential, we sincerely hope they will pursue writing and public speaking as a career.”
“All who were involved are to be commended for the part they played in helping students sharpen their writing skills and developing creativity as they showed dedication to keeping the dream of Martin Luther King, Jr. alive. Certainly, they have increased their understanding of the ideas of MLK and shared what they learned professionally impressively,” added Ligon.