Since the nation elected Barack Obama as its president for a second term, and the 9/11 terrorists attacks become a more distant but still painful memory (especially to those who may have been too young to even comprehend what happened that day), it was only fitting that this year’s Andrew J. Stern 9/11 Memorial Essay Contest question was, “This is an election year. One of the duties of the president is to keep the memory of 9/11 alive. Do you know someone who is not running for president who you think would make a good president, and why?”
In its seventh year, the contest was started by the Stern family of East Rockaway to honor the memory of Andrew J. Stern, a graduate of Centre Avenue Elementary and East Rockaway High School who was killed in the World Trade Center in 2001. Three winners and two special mentions were chosen out of the 600 essays that were submitted. “That’s a lot of essays to read!” said Andrew’s sister, Lisa Burch. Members of the Stern family read each essay, but didn’t know who the writer was. Students read their winning essays aloud at the East Rockaway Board of Education meeting on Jan. 15.
Burch said that this year, they added two special categories to the contest. “Many of the writers said their mother, father or grandparents would make a good president,” she said. “There were students who said that celebrities should be president, or first-responders … [but] the majority of the middle and high school students thought there was a teacher who would make an excellent president — and that’s Don Poland.” Burch said that the students wrote about Poland’s ability to teach about 9/11 and how it should never be forgotten. “After reading through [the essays], we knew we had to do something special to honor him, so for the first time, we have an ‘MVP’ award — Most Valuable Teacher — Mr. Don Poland.” Upon receiving his award, Poland, known for his booming voice in and out of the classroom was uncharacteristically chocked up and speechless. “Thanks ….” was all he could say, and was met with thunderous applause from the audience.