Return to Headlines

West Middle School student wins multiple awards for essay exploring the meaning of freedom

West Middle School student Benji Simberg poses with family and Arapahoe Sertoma officials on Feb. 19. Benji Simberg’s conception of freedom owes a lot to the history of his family.

The eighth-grader from West Middle School eloquently spelled out his thoughts on the meaning of the word in an essay that garnered honors from Arapahoe Sertoma, the local branch of an international organization committed to improving the life of individuals through service.

In Simberg’s essay, written from the straightforward prompt “What does freedom mean to me?,” he draws a direct line between the ideal and the struggles of his own family. In doing so, he points to his broader hopes and dreams for humanity.

“To me, freedom is change; it is my family, shattered into a million pieces and swept across the globe during the WW2 holocaust. The family that once lived in a world without a prospect to speak their mind, to live life to its fullest … Freedom is the choices I make and those my family made. To drift off into unknown lands and be free of the horrible men who knew nothing of altruism and benevolence,” Simberg wrote. “Freedom, this incredible and adversity-ridden thing, is what grants hope to those without any left and enlightens the ignorant.

“This is the life that I envision for every person on this earth … Let us not put the blood and tears of the fallen to waste,” he concluded.

These powerful and personal words won Simberg two prizes from the Arapahoe Sertoma organization, which draws its name from the phrase “Service to Mankind.” Simberg’s entry in the chapter’s annual essay contest not only won the award for West Middle School; it also earned the grand prize in the contest. Sertoma judges chose Simberg’s essay from entries from more than a dozen schools from across multiple districts.

These honors carry a combined prize of $200, as well as commemoration on two separate plaques, one that will remain housed in the WMS trophy case, and another “traveling” award that bears the names of past winners.

In any other year, Simberg’s achievement would be celebrated at a formal banquet attended by essay winners and their families. Because of COVID, however, such a gathering is impossible, so contest organizers worked with Simberg’s teacher to come up with a different kind of celebration. On Feb. 19, Sertoma officials met Sinberg and Language Arts teacher Kathryn Strickland outside the school for a socially distanced award ceremony. Simberg’s fellow students from the class were present for the ceremony, as was his mother.

Sertoma representatives Capt. David Oppenheim, Steve Dawson and Rick Jacobus spoke about the impact of Simberg’s essay, and noted that it stood out from all the other entries with its heartfelt insights and profoundly personal observations.

“I was really impressed by his essay. Behind his words, there was truly a feeling of appreciation, that he knows that freedom should never be taken for granted,” Oppenheim said. “It was very well-written, and I enjoyed reading it. It really stood out.”

Strickland noted that the essay provided a historic win for West Middle School, which has participated in the essay contest for multiple years.

“This is the fifth year that I have had a student from my class win recognition, but we have never won the grand prize,” she noted. “It is a huge honor.”

For Simberg, the recognition and the praise were only possible because of the important ideal he spelled out in his essay.

“Without freedom, I may not have been writing this essay,” he remarked. “I would not have known how to.”

Posted 2/22/21 at 10:30 AM