Members of Boy Scout Troop 821 of Westfield pose in front of different versions U.S. flags since 1775. Pictured in the front row, from left, are Andrew Caldeira, Riley Pease, Daniel Casineau, Liam Blais and Jonathan Guido. In the back row are Cody Mailloux, Ben McEwan, James Dennison and Christopher Pitohiak.

Reminder Publishing photo by Mike Lydick

WESTFIELD — Makaylah Motyl thought she was in trouble when she was called to the principal’s office at Gateway Regional Middle School. Instead, she received a check as a winner in an essay contest sponsored by the local Elks lodge.

“When I came back with that check, I was very excited — I had never entered a writing contest before,” said the 14-year-old. She was one of two winners of an annual Americanism essay contest sponsored by the Westfield-West Springfield Lodge of Elks.

Makaylah Motyl of Russell is one of two winners of the Westfield-West Springfield Elks’ annual Americanism essay contest. Motyl is flanked by Patricia O’Connor, chair of the lodge’s Americanism Committee, and Milt Vazquez, the lodge’s exalted ruler.
Reminder Publishing photo by Mike Lydick

She was recognized at the Elks’ annual Flag Day ritual on June 12 that recounts, honors and celebrates the creation and history of the United States flag. The Elks is the first and only fraternal organization to celebrate Flag Day, said Patricia O’Connor, who serves as chair of the lodge’s Americanism Committee.

O’Connor said Americanism is always forefront in the minds of Elks.

“This contest is vitally important to us, as it promotes Americanism in our local communities and encourages our young people to thoughtfully consider American values and appreciate the blessings and responsibilities of citizenship by giving them the opportunity to thoughtfully evaluate and express their views in an essay on the selected annual theme.”

This year’s essay theme was “What the Bill of Rights Means to Me.” The contest is judged in four separate grade levels, grades 5-8. It starts at the local level and then progresses through district and state levels before ending with the naming of the national winners in July.

The Westfield-West Springfield lodge had two winners at the local and state levels.

Motyl, who lives in Russell, is the winner for the eighth grade level. Ava Skowron, a student at Doering School in Agawam, is the sixth grade winner.

Motyl said she decided to enter the contest after her civics teacher mentioned it in class.

“I thought it would be a fun experience to try something new,” she said. “And even if I didn’t win, I thought it would be worth giving it a shot.”

The contest’s topic was fresh in Motyl’s mind since her class had recently had a discussion about the Bill of Rights. “It was an interesting topic to write about. I enjoy writing and I like to express my opinions. I like to write about what things mean to me and my opinions on certain things.”

In her essay, Motyl wrote that she’s always wanted to be her own person and wanted to say things she believes in: “People don’t always agree with who you are. They might not like you for your beliefs or gender. But knowing that the Bill of Rights allows me to speak up no matter if I’m a woman or what I believe in is comforting. The fact that I can be me in today’s world makes me feel good.

“I know that even if I’m a girl I can achieve the dreams I’ve wanted to achieve as a kid. I don’t have to be scared — I can reach the goals I’ve always wanted to. Without the Bill of Rights, I wouldn’t feel the support of knowing I can be me, the person I’ve always imagined being, because in the long run, you have to be yourself.”

Motyl said it took her about 30 minutes to write her essay. Then she had her mother, father and teacher review it.

“Most of the changes they made were just capitalizations. I changed a few sentences, shortened them a little bit, but otherwise I didn’t revise anything else before I submitted it,” she said.

The purpose of the Elks Flag Day ceremony is to honor the country’s flag, to celebrate the anniversary of its origins and to recall achievements attained beneath it. During the ceremony, Roland Perkins, past exalted ruler for the lodge, described the history of the different U.S. flags, as members of Boy Scout Troop 821 of Westfield carried in different versions of the flag from its origin in 1775 to the present day.

“The greatest significance of this flag lies in the influence it has in the hearts and minds of millions of people,” said O’Connor at the end of the ceremony. “It has waved over the unparalleled progress of a nation in developing democratic institutions, scientific and technological knowledge, education and culture. It has served as a beacon for millions of poor and oppressed refugees abroad, and stands as a promise that the underprivileged will not be forgotten.”

Flag Day is observed on June 14, the date in 1777 when the Continental Congress adopted the “Stars and Stripes” as the original American flag. While Flag Day is not a federal holiday, it became an officially recognized day following a proclamation signed by President Woodrow Wilson in 1916.