“Good things come in all shapes and sizes,” said Peyton Kennedy at an awards dinner last week. “But they do not come in drug bottles.”
Peyton, a sixth grade student at Theodore Roosevelt School, was the first place winner of the annual essay contest sponsored by the Weehawken Elks Club. This year’s theme was “I’ve Better Things to Do Than Drugs.”
On Jan. 11, the top three winners of the contest gathered at the Elks club along with town officials to celebrate the awards with a pizza party.
“Take advantage of those opportunities to be successful.” – Diüky Padron Marrero
The essay contest has taken place at the Elks for more than 10 years. The essays are also entered in a regional contest, and the ones from Weehawken always do well. Weehawken has garnered first place in the East District Elks for the past two years and over the past three years has not placed lower than third.
“Out of more than 8,000 children, we’ve had the top three in the drug awareness category,” Charlesworth said.
The 250-word contest is part of a three-pronged approach to drug awareness in Weehawken which includes a poster contest sponsored by the Governor’s Municipal Alliance and the DARE graduation program, a joint endeavor between the high school and Police Department.
“This speaks very highly of our young people.” – Mayor Richard Turner
A way with words
The winning students will be featured in the national Elks magazine for their achievement. Mayor Turner was joined by Drug Awareness Chairperson Lisa Kovito to present the awards as families proudly cheered on the winners.
As they received their award certificate along with a check (First place - $75, Second place - $50, Third place - $25), each student had an opportunity to read his or her essay to the audience.
Third place winner, Neidelyn Pina, would rather go to the movies or read a book instead of doing drugs. She calls them a “waste of time and money; a body destroyer that gets you in trouble with the police and makes you a bad example for others.” As an aspiring model, her favorite part of the evening was taking pictures with the mayor.
Her father and grandmother attended in support of her accomplishment. “I’m very happy, very proud,” her grandmother, Rosa Vargas, said in Spanish. “She’s come a long way,” said Neidelyn’s father, Jose Pina. “We’re always encouraging her to get better at everything she does. I’m so proud because she did this all by herself.”
Diüky Padron Marrero won second place by discouraging her peers from “going with the flow” when it comes to drugs. She said that students should concentrate on their goals and use exercise to keep focus mentally and physically. “Life offers big opportunities,” Diüky said. “Take advantage of those opportunities to be successful.”
This was Diüky’s first time entering the contest. “I wrote what I felt,” she said. “I’m excited just being here, seeing that maybe this will influence other people to not do drugs and live their life correctly.”
Diüky’s mother, also named Diüky Marrero, was almost in tears as she listened to her daughter read her essay aloud.
“I’m very proud of her,” Marrero said. “She’s a good girl; responsible. I’m trying to give her the best example possible.”
First place winner Peyton Kennedy also took first place in the district, which means she is now in the running for the state competition. “I worked hard,” said Peyton. “And it just goes to show that when you work hard it pays off.”
Results from the state level will be announced in June.
Peyton used self confidence as the centerpiece of her essay. “Drugs will suck up your future like a vacuum cleaner so you disappear,” she wrote. She encourages others to find something they like to do and “make it your own.”
Kennedy also won first place in an essay contest last year, writing on the theme of Americanism, but said that this time around was a little more difficult. “This was more challenging because it’s your personal opinion” said Peyton. “My inspiration came from health and DARE classes. They give you scenarios and show you that it’s okay to say no.”
The most interesting thing she learned in her DARE classes was how a real friend will still be your friend, even when you don’t give into peer pressure. Her wish is that this message will resonate with those who read her essay as well.
“I hope it sticks with them,” said Peyton. “And that they’ll learn from it.”
Lori Kennedy, Peyton’s mother, said the title of the essay contest this year was perfect for her daughter, who is involved in many activities in school and around town. “She really does have better things to do with her life,” said Kennedy.
In addition to Peyton’s parents, she had a fan of smaller stature offering support as well. Her younger sister, Lauren, said “I’m happy for you,” as the kindergartner watched her big sister enjoy the limelight. One day, Lauren will have to deal with the same scenarios her big sister is facing now.
Especially as the students progress from sixth grade onward, being able to stand up to peer pressure is an important skill to master.
“If she can write this and see her own words, she can walk away,” said Kennedy. “That’s a confident thing, to believe in yourself and be able to walk away.”
Lana Rose Diaz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.