Mainstreams: more than words on paper

• Crane takes first in Elk River Peace essay contest; writers wrote on the hard topic of security sector reform


by Jim Boyle


Emma Crane has won the Chase Korte Peace Essay contest at Elk River High School, irrevocably connecting her to a rare category of writers.

Crane and her older brother are the only sibling pair to both win the Elk River High School installment of the Peace Essay contest. Gregory Crane, a 2006 Elk River High School graduate, took first in the 2005 local Peace Essay contest.

There’s only one sibling pair so far that can top that feat.

Elk River High School graduates Christen Beckstrand-Schafer and her brother Michael Beckstrand won the State Peace Essay Contest. He won the state essay contest in 2002 after taking first in the Elk River contest, and she won the state contest in 2005 after finishing second at Elk River High School.

Ironically, Christen, the speaker at the 2014 Peace Essay Awards Ceremony on March 27 at Zabee Theater where Emma  Crane was honored, finished second behind Gregory Crane.

“They are two amazing families,” said Tom Fuller, who helped organize the first Elk River High School Peace Essay contest as an Advanced Placement  English teacher and has been tied to it ever since.

Elk River High Shool students Sophie Wiitala took second place, and Alana Labatt took third in the 2014 local contest, while Josh Gearou, Jordan Haack, Katie VanCamp and Colette Woyke were awarded honorable mentions.

Students who entered the contest this year through Denise Green’s AP English and Composition course at the high school researched and submitted essay responses to the question: “How does security sector reform contribute to sustainable peace?”

To answer that question, students were required to research and write about two conflicts that have occurred within the past 30 years. The breakup of the USSR, the so-called Arab spring and the war against terrorism provided them with numerous conflicts to research and ample evidence of how fragile peace can be if forces in the security sector are not honest, ethical and determined to protect citizen rights.

Emma Crane did not think she penned the winning essay. She turned it in early and managed a good grade, but it was her toughest assignment to date in her high school career.

“I was very surprised to win,” she said. “It was hard to find (sources). It’s a relatively new topic.”

Crane described in her essay how there is not a single template that will work in all situations. She explained how key elements include civilian input, transparency, accountability, ownership in the process and set standards to work for.

Crane, a student with a GPA north of 4.0 said the word limit on the assignment also made it tough, and the assignment taught her about how to research effectively, prioritize and organize.

She plans to pursue a degree in music education and would like to become a choir director someday at a middle school or high school. The all-conference choir member is involved in the high school’s choir program and the spring musicals on an annual  basis.

This was the 20th year of the Peace Essay contest, which was renamed after Chase Korte in 2007 after the Elk River graduate was killed that year by a drunken driver. Chase Korte, who graduated from Elk River High School in 2001, won the local Peace Essay contest in 2000.

Fuller and Mabel Schultz instigated the local installment of the contest in 1995. Stewart Wilson, the executive vice president of the Bank of Elk River, has awarded $500 scholarships to the winner each year since.

Pat and Linda Korte, parents of Chase Korte, who award annual Chase Korte Peace Essay Scholarships, offer a $300 and $200 scholarship for the respective second and third place winners of the contest, honoring the memory of their son.

The competition and awards ceremony involves members of the high school’s faculty and the community, including Green, the AP English teacher who assigns the U.S. Institute of Peace National Essay Contest in her English class.

At the time of his death, Chase was an aspiring Hollywood actor. He was working on the conclusion of a film project called “The Peace Walker,” and he was also a passionate supporter for the elimination of sexual abuse in general and especially the elimination of the sexual slave trafficking of young women.

“He lived a life that we believe embodies the spirit of altruism that characterizes the purpose of the Peace Essay contest,” Fuller said.