Bob Bestler | Sixth-graders surprise with essays on U.S. presidents

June 6, 2014 

I’ve been out of the Grand Strand loop for about eight years now, and pretty much uninvolved in the comings and going of this great community.

A few weeks ago, Myrtle Beach attorney Jay Haar pulled me back in.

On behalf of the Grand Strand Sertoma Club, Haar asked me to judge its annual Heritage Week Essay Contest for sixth-graders at Myrtle Beach Middle School.

I had performed this task a few times in the past and I can tell you that the 100 or so entries this year were far and away the best I’ve ever seen.

It’s a credit to the teachers, of course, but also says much about the academic skills of Myrtle Beach students.

This year’s contest asked students to write about their favorite president – and what made him a great president.

Most of the students picked the same presidents any of us might pick – George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, Franklin Roosevelt, John F. Kennedy, Ronald Reagan, even Barack Obama.

Some were surprises, among them John Quincy Adams, Zachary Taylor and Grover Cleveland. Another surprise was Ulysses S. Grant, who was the favorite of four students.

One student, who will go unnamed, gave me a little chuckle as she enumerated FDR’s New Deal accomplishments and identified the NRA as the National Rifle Association, not the National Recovery Act. Charleston Heston would be proud.

As a rule, I judge on the basis of factual content and, in this contest, achievements in office. Several students told more about the early life of their president and skimped on the presidency itself.

Writing skill was also paramount, of course, and this was generally where the winners outdistanced the others.

Several essays impressed me, but three stood out above the rest:

• First Place | Chapin Epps cited Franklin Roosevelt’s “bold actions to fight two of the biggest threats in American and world history, the Great Depression and World War II.”

• Second Place | Naveen Hingorani said Barack Obama was not only our first black president, but his achievements range from “trying to pull a nation out of a financial crisis to getting our troops back home, and passing a health care bill that no other president could.”

• Third Place | Amanda Benezies said Abraham Lincoln was “bright and true, he led us in the right direction. ... He ended slavery and gave African American slaves freedom, a freedom that has never been broken to this day.”

The winners were named this week and the Sertoma awards were generous: $500 for first place, $300 for second, $200 for third.

Sounds like a good start on a college fund, eh, gang?

Contact BOB BESTLER at

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