Yanticaw School sixth-grader wins Nutley VFW’s Patriots Pen contest

Nutley’s Yanticaw School sixth-grader Neslisah Varol won the 2024 VFW Patriot’s Pen contest. The winning essay is listed below. Seen here are Sezen Varol, her mother; Neslishah; Maria Hamlin, Nutley VFW commander; and Gokhan Varol, her dad.

In 2019, as the tears fell from my cheeks, knowing I couldn’t be with my cousins and family, my heart  ached. I kept telling myself that it was going to be okay. I was aware that my life was going to be better. I was going to America! 

 Taking my first steps in America, I was already inspired. When I saw the American flag flying “freely” in the blue sky, I realized that the flag means freedom. So, I was not surprised that in America different kinds of people had come together because of what they believed in. Also, there was the welcoming Statue of Liberty which accepts people from around the world and I got to see the unique city called New York.  It was absolutely inspiring.   

Later, when I was in second-grade, Ms. Maggiano, was my teacher. She was thoughtful and patient and knew that I struggled with English. As a result, I went to ESL. As I improved my English, I grew to understand and learn history. I was fascinated by Martin Luther King Jr. He showed me bravery and the efforts he made to make the U.S. better.

For example, Black people didn’t have the same rights as white people. They couldn’t use the same bathrooms or restaurants or go to the same schools. However, he changed that and created a balance between them. He said: “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin.”  He was truly inspiring. Because of him, I was proud of who I am and can do anything I want. 

Many immigrants like me come to America looking for freedom and to start a new life, get a better education and live in a safe community and a safe environment. America is truly a magical place where anything can happen!  

 “Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and you shall find.”  

 Finally, for all people coming to America is not easy. For the people struggling in America, here is a message. You are living in an inspiring country with lots of freedom, people who care and other opportunities — all thanks to the people in history before us! 

Learn more about the writer ...

Kevin A. Canessa Jr. is the editor of and broadcaster at The Observer, a place where he has served on and off since 2006. He is responsible for the editorial content of the newspaper and website, the production of the e-Newspaper, writing several stories per week (including the weekly editorial), conducting live broadcasts on Facebook Live, including a weekly recap of the news — and much more behind the scenes. Between 2006 and 2008, he introduced the newspaper to its first-ever blog — which included podcasts, audio and video. Originally from Jersey City, Kevin lived in Kearny until 2004, lived in Port St. Lucie. Florida, for four years until February 2016 and in March of that year, he moved back to West Hudson to return to The Observer full time. Click Here to send Kevin an email.