Wantagh Middle School student is state winner of Daughters of the American Revolution essay contest


Wantagh Middle School student Kate Stivali imagined herself as a journalist during an iconic moment in American history, and in doing so became the seventh-grade New York state winner of a patriotic essay contest.

For this year’s Daughters of the American Revolution essay contest, participants were tasked with writing from the point of view of a reporter on the day American composer John Philip Sousa first performed “The Stars and Stripes Forever,” the rousing patriotic march he wrote in 1896. The contest was part of the women’s service organization’s mission of promoting historic preservation and honoring the patriots of the Revolutionary War.

Kate learned of her win at a luncheon at Wantagh Public Library on March 13, when the DAR’s Jerusalem Chapter announced the chapter’s winners in the contest, for fifth through twelfth grades, as well as Kate’s special recognition. She said her reaction amused teachers and district faculty at the event, because her mouth agape in complete surprise.

“I was shocked,” Kate recalled. “Everyone laughed at my reaction, so I think it was pretty shocking.”

Among those in attendance were her social studies teacher, David Cippoletti, and the Wantagh school district’s director of Humanities, Julie Rosslee, both of whom said they were impressed with Kate’s essay.

“I was very excited,” Cippoletti said. “I was not surprised, because she’s an excellent student and an even better person.”

Cippoletti turned the essay contest into an extra-credit assignment for his students last fall. Kate said she was interested in taking part, and her mother encouraged her, saying she was a good writer. The essay, according to Kate, took around five hours to write and edit.

“I wrote about how he inspired Americans with his march, and how he accomplished great things with his music,” she said of Sousa, “and how he touched America’s hearts.”

Kate read her essay aloud at the DAR luncheon, and Rosslee said she was struck by how much research Kate did.

“The facts that were in there and the quotes that were in there, she didn’t just make them up,” Rosslee said. “They were all accurate.”

Cippoletti was impressed with Kate’s use of quotes, and her delivery when she read the essay, saying she “commanded the room.”

“I was surprised by the speech that she gave, because she was wise beyond her years with it,” Cippoletti said. “So that was the only thing I was surprised at.”

Kate explained that Sousa was inspired to write the march after hearing of the death of his manager and friend, David Blakely, in 1896. On May 14 of the following year, Sousa debuted the piece at the Philadelphia Academy of Music. In 1987 it was designated the national march of the United States.

“I liked how he expressed the music for America,” Kate said. “It was really meaningful. I listened to it before I researched, and I wasn’t expecting how good it would be, because it was really good.”

For her state win in the contest, she received a certificate, a $150 check, a silver medal and a patriotic coloring book. She is no stranger to winning essay contests: She won first place in the middle school’s Memorial Day essay contest last year for sixth grade students, where the topic was the meaning of the holiday.

Kate said that writing is an enjoyable hobby for her, giving her the chance to jot down her thoughts and write poems and song lyrics. She added that more students should take part in essay contests.

“I think you should try, even if it’s hard,” she said. “You should persevere.”

Cippoletti says he assigns the essay contest to help students develop their writing skills, and was impressed with the maturity of Kate’s essay.

“It really is a feather in her cap,” he said. “She gave it to me, I read it over, and I was like, ‘Yeah, this is awesome.’ So, it was 100 percent her, and I think that is amazing for a seventh-grader to do that.”