Fisher High wins essay contest delivering brief but powerful messages
FISHER — Tuesday marks the sesquicenntial of Abraham Lincoln dedicating the Gettysburg national cemetery at the site of the 1863 battle there.
Students at Fisher High School won a contest sponsored by Springfield's Lincoln museum by having the highest percentage of student participation in an essay contest patterned after Lincoln's memorial that was brief but powerful and that characterizes the spirit of the United States.
The contest was called "272 Words." Entrants were charged with the task of writing 272 words in the spirit of the 16th president. People could write about Lincoln, the Gettysburg Address or any cause about which the writer was passionate.
History teacher Bob Lindsay learned about the contest and figured it was tailor-made for a school like Fisher with such a small enrollment. He liked the contest from a writing perspective because it makes the point that an important statement can be contained within few words. He also liked that it made sense for teacher collaboration and writing across the curriculum — which educators emphasize.
He enlisted the help of the school's English teachers and students worked for nearly a week on their essays. Lindsay emphasized historical research during his classes' time, while the English teachers worked on the finer points of writing during theirs.
A total of 134 students out of 181 entered the contest for a 74 percent participation rate. Lindsay said more than that actually sent in an essay, but several of the students received an email saying their essays did not meet the required 272 words.
In December, Carla Knorowski, chief executive officer of the museum, will come to Fisher to award the school prize. Lindsay said a school in North Carolina was a distant second in the contest. Fisher has won a $2,500 cash award.
Historian Robert McNamara wrote about the Gettysburg Address: "A persistent myth is that Lincoln wrote the speech on the back of an envelope while riding the train to Gettysburg as he didn't think the speech was anything serious. The opposite is true.
"A draft of the speech had been written by Lincoln in the White House. And it's known that he also refined the speech the night before he delivered it, at the house where he spent the night in Gettysburg. So Lincoln put considerable care into what he was about to say."
The envelope myth emphasizes the briefness of the speech. Today, a single answer by a modern-day president to a news conference question tends to be much longer. But the true story emphasizes what the Fisher students had to do, present a weighty idea without being wordy.