A first amendment winner

Published 12:00 am Thursday, May 26, 2005

&uot;To speak or not to speak, that is the question. To speak or not to speak, that is the freedom.&uot;

-from Kelsey Cutchins’ essay, &uot;What Freedom of Speech Means

to Me.&uot;

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Freedom of speech means many things. It mentions the right to speak one’s mind, to agree or disagree. It’s the right to be heard.

And, wrote Lakeland High junior Kelsey Cutchins in her essay, &uot;What Freedom of Speech Means to Me,&uot; it’s also the right to say nothing at all, and to listen or not listen.

In February, Cutchins and the rest of her history class were assigned to crank out a 350-word essay on the first amendment.

&uot;I just wrote about what (the first amendment) meant to me as an individual,&uot; she said. &uot;Most people think that it’s just about the ability to speak the way they want, but I wanted to include that it gives us the right to say nothing at all if we don’t want to.

&uot;To me, freedom of speech walks hand in hand with the responsibility to enjoy this freedom in a respectful manner,&uot; she wrote. &uot;The message frequently speaks stronger when delivered respectfully. It is wonderful to have a government when the people have a voice not only inside but outside their borders.

&uot;Freedom of speech not only benefits the speaker; it strengthens the country. Many people have died and are dying to protect our freedoms from those who wish to take them away from us. This precious freedom is intertwined in my belief and in my heart.&uot;

Cutchins wrote out the paper (the word limit forced her to &uot;take out a lot of ‘ands’ and ‘buts’&uot;), handed it in, and got an A. Soon after, it was sent to the Fleet Reserve Branch #40 competition. The Reserve is a nonprofit organization comprised of enlisted personnel (active duty, reserve, and retired) of the U.S. Navy, Marine Corps and Coast Guard.

&uot;I hadn’t gotten a chance to look at any of the other papers,&uot; she said, &uot;so I didn’t really have any expectations.&uot;

That was OK; in late February, a teacher told her and classmates Lauren Bostic and Julia Skeeter that they’d swept the contest’s top three spots for 11th graders Afterward, the essays were sent to the Fleet’s national competition.

On May 5, Cutchins was in English class. Suddenly, her history teacher charged through the door and started jumping around.

&uot;She told me that I’d won the national competition,&uot; Cutchins said. &uot;I could feel my face turning red. I didn’t know what to do.&uot;

She may have some time; she’ll be receiving a $5,000 savings bond, a plaque and certificate.