Initially, most of the eighth-graders at the Lake Washington Girls Middle School resisted the assignment. After all, they had just completed...

Initially, most of the eighth-graders at the Lake Washington Girls Middle School resisted the assignment.

After all, they had just completed one big research paper, with another due soon, when their humanities teacher asked them to write an essay for a countywide contest honoring the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

At a ceremony today, the King County Civil Rights Commission will grant first- and second-place honors to Lena Cardoso and Maya Riser-Kositsky, both students at the private Central Area school.

Karly Birch from Redmond Junior High School is the third-place winner.

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The 100 or so competing essays were submitted from public and private middle schools from across King County.

With this year’s theme — “United for the Common Good” — students were encouraged to think critically about King’s legacy of peace and justice. The essays were judged on several factors, including the students’ knowledge of King and his work in the civil-rights movement.

The essays were stripped of student names and school affiliations before they were reviewed by the seven members of the commission, said administrator Paula Harris-White. “They have no idea who the student is other than what he or she might say about himself in the essay,” she said.

This is the seventh year of the contest and the 19th year the county will host the King celebration. Today’s event is scheduled for noon to 1 p.m. at the Paramount Theatre, 911 Pine St., and is free and open to the public.

The following are excerpts from the winning essays:

Lena Cardoso

First-place winner: $100

Lake Washington Girls

Middle School

Hatred, present in many ways, still happens in our everyday world. Although we have come a long way in America through interpretation of our Constitution and through the passing of various laws, problems still exist in this country and in others.

People worldwide still feel the effects of racism, lack of religious freedom, and gender persecution. … In order to make things better, people need to open the lines of communication and be willing to recognize and discuss these injustices. As individuals, each person needs to be the best that they can be, bringing passion and spirit to the world like Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. did.

The process of trying to overcome injustices will unite the common good. Solutions to every problem will not happen overnight, but progress can be made by advancing one step at a time. I can try and help by inspiring one person, who in turn will hopefully inspire someone else, creating a chain affect until the passion and spirit touches many people. …

The world has changed with technological advancements and many countries are no longer isolated. Due to this globalization, problems found in one country can more directly affect other countries. As Americans, we need to consider injustices in our own country, as well as those found worldwide.

Maya Riser-Kositsky

Second-place winner: $75

Lake Washington Girls

Middle School

… King’s fight is an ongoing one and many people all over the country fight it in their every day lives; they fight to get the same amount of funding for schools in poor parts of cities as rich parts, they fight for equal marriage rights and they fight for better working conditions.

King’s dream has not been fulfilled when … schools in black neighborhoods do not have the supplies or funding to give the children the gift of literacy. …

King’s dream is not fulfilled when overseas child labor is being used to make products which are sold in America by people making barely over minimum wage. …

King’s dream is being fulfilled by people fighting for the right of marriage. King was against war and when most of the new recruits in the army are from poor neighborhoods and join only because they feel they have no other choice with their lives, his legacy is not being fulfilled.

Martin Luther King’s legacy is hope; the hope that you can change the world into a better place if you try.

Karly Birch

Third-place winner: $50

Redmond Junior High School

When I think of uniting for the common good I can think of countless times when my school has come together to do one amazing thing for others. For instance, earlier this year, when the tragedy of Hurricane Katrina struck, my school decided to put together a fundraiser to help the survivors. Students scraped up all the money they could and in the end my school raised over ten thousand dollars.

The common good was reaching the point where anyone, no matter the color of their skin or cultural heritage, could work together for one cause that could benefit others. I am sure that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. would be proud to see that today people are still working together in keeping his dream alive, such as the students at my school.