- The Washington Times - Monday, April 18, 2005

An ordinary homework assignment has catapulted a high school student from Potomac into the national spotlight for writing an essay crafted in the same fashion as President Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address.

Mihan Lee, an 11th-grader who attends Georgetown Day School in Northwest, competed against nearly 5,400 middle and high school students nationwide in an essay contest titled “Lincoln and a New Birth of Freedom.”

A 17-year-old, second-generation Korean-American, Mihan will read her award-winning prose titled “A New Country, A New Century, A New Freedom” before state and national leaders during the dedication ceremony of the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum today in Springfield, Ill. She will also receive a cash prize of $1,500.

“I didn’t actually write about President Lincoln, although the contest was inspired by the president, it was not mandatory that the essay be about him,” Mihan said. “So, I wrote about my great-grandfather, who lived in Korea under Japanese colonization and how he inspires me today.”

Her great-grandfather Jung In Seung was a historical figure in Korea because he put together the first Korean dictionary at a time when the language was banned under Japanese rule, Mihan said. He was arrested and interred in a prison camp until the liberation of Korea in 1945, she said.

Mihan said she never imagined that a homework assignment that took her several hours to complete would give her the opportunity to travel to Lincoln’s hometown and present her essay during the museum’s dedication.

Mihan and nine other first-prize winners, their parents, guardians and teachers traveled to central Illinois over the past several days and toured several historic Lincoln sites.

“I was shocked when I learned that I was the winner. I never expected to win or get anything back from this homework assignment. … But, it was really hard to work within the confines [of the assignment], most of my time was spent editing and revising my essay,” Mihan said. “I have a tendency to be wordy.”

The contest was sponsored by C-SPAN, a public affairs cable television network, and the new Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum.

The students who participated in the contest were asked to write what they thought about “a new birth of freedom” in an essay limited to 272 words, the length of the Gettysburg Address Lincoln delivered on Nov. 19, 1863, on the battlefield near Gettysburg, Pa.

Mihan’s history teacher, Susan Ikenberry, said she likes her students to enter a contest every year and she looks for contests students can complete as a homework assignment for several reasons.

“It’s good for their writing and this particular [assignment] had to be an essay about the same length as the Gettysburg Address. It honed in on those skills used to convey thoughts in a clear and precise way. And, there’s a certain cadence to the address and that is what students were supposed to be duplicating,” Mrs. Ikenberry said.

After reading Mihan’s essay, Mrs. Ikenberry said, she knew Mihan would be among the winners.

“I thought Mihan’s was absolutely remarkable — I really thought she would win,” Mrs. Ikenberry said. “I was impressed by the simplicity and the originality of her essay. It’s beautiful writing, which of course, is what the Gettysburg Address is all about — it’s very simple and that’s what makes [the Gettysburg Address] so eloquent. Mihan has captured that.”

The dedication ceremony will be broadcast live today on C-SPAN beginning at noon Eastern Standard Time.

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