An annual event each February, city and school officials, North Shore Bank, local historians, teachers and proud parents gathered at the homestead of George Peabody on Friday to fete the newest winners of the citywide third grade essay contest in his name.
Students were asked to expound upon how they would use their wealth to help the world if they were "great philanthopists" like George Peabody, who used his money to build schools, libraries and museums. This is the 24th year of the contest.
The winners were: Benjamin McKiernan (1st), Natalie Kucher (2nd) and Alexa Demakis (3rd). Benjamin is a student at the Center School, Natalie is at the Welch School and Alexa is at the West School.
A first this year, two honorable mentions were also awarded to Jake Westin, a student at St. John the Baptist School, and Alexandra Grillo, another student at the West School.
Benjamin, Natalie and Alexa read their essays aloud Friday morning and received their prizes from North Shore Bank: cash in the way of savings accounts ($100, $50 and $25, respectively for first, second and third place).
Benjamin said it's all about education -- he would use his wealth, if he had it, to build schools and help kids go to college.
"The more educated we are, the stronger our country will be. If we get a bad education, our country will slowly fall apart," he wrote.
Natalie, meanwhile, focused on humanitarian aid, such as housing, clothing and other necessities for the victims of Hurricane Sandy, and encouraging people to be kind as well as helping sick children. She said she'd launch her own anti-bullying campaign.
"Violence is never the answer to anything, it just causes more violence, which is bad," she wrote.
As for Alexa, she plans to give her wealth away to help those who have none, and it all starts with a dollar. She said she would give her money to the homeless to provide housing.
"I hope that they can use my money to buy more supplies so that they can make more and more houses for those less fortunate than us," she wrote. "It's important for me to help out those who are less fortunate."
The event was held at the George Peabody House Museum on Feb. 15, three days before Peabody's birthday -- he would be 218 this year.
All third grade students paid a visit to the historic house in the fall to learn about the life and legacy of the city's namesake. Essay finalists were narrowed down by the judges from among more than 65 entries and those finalists, along with the winners, now adorn the walls of the museum.
The contest was organized by the Peabody Historical Society and the judges were: Mary-Lou DaSilva of North Shore Bank, Historical Society Executive Director William Power and volunteers Sheila D'Ambrosio, Linda Roemer, Vera Burke and Georgia Metropolis.
Another regular feature of the ceremony is a rendition of "Good George Peabody" by School Performing Arts Director Jon Simmons and a student choral group -- this year that honor went to the chorus at Higgins Middle School.
Power noted that when he and a group of local officials traveled over to England last year for the 150th Anniversary of the George Peabody Housing Trust they were cheered to hear this song as part of the ceremonies.
He also said next year the fifth-graders will have their own essay contest to learn more about Peabody's roots in the leather industry. "Maybe we'll see you guys again soon," he told the third grade winners.
An historical anecdote: North Shore Bank, which has sponsored the contest from the beginning, was known as the George Peabody Co-operative Bank between 1970 and 1996 when it adopted its current name.