Three local youth were special guests of the Stephenville Optimist Club on Wednesday, joining members for a special presentation to announce the winners of this year’s Optimist International Essay Contest.

Stephenville High School freshman Mikka Landers was chosen at this year’s first place essay winner and was presented with a $100 prize.

Contest chairman and local Optimist Club member Patrick “Pat” Shelbourne said this year’s topic, “How Today’s Choices Shape My Future,” garnered 99 entries from area students.

Landers was awarded a first place certificate and medal for the honor. In addition, her essay will be sent to the district level to be judged along with winners from other Optimist Clubs in the district. The winner of the district competition will be sent to the international-level contest. College scholarships are available for the top winners at both the district and international levels, said Shelbourne.

“Mikka did a wonderful job of articulating this year’s theme. She expressed herself well through the essay and deserved the honor of first place,” said Shelbourne.

The Stephenville Optimist Club also awarded certificates and medals to other top essay contest winners, including SHS senior Austin Adams, the second place winner, and local sophomore Bethanie Young, the third place winner. Local Optimist members presented Adams with a $50 prize and Young with a $25 prize during the club’s meeting earlier this week.

Below is Landers’ winning essay:

I am a high school student living in a rural area. My family and I chose this lifestyle for many reasons. In my case, this lifestyle improves my time management skills, honesty, money management, responsibility, work ethic, people skills, as well as many other farming and ranching skills necessary to make a living in such an industry.

This lifestyle influences my choices that shape my future in many ways. For example, I choose to pursue a career in veterinary medicine due to the time I spend around animals, horses particularly. Working in this career field will be very beneficial to me and my future. For instance, when I become a veterinarian I will no longer need to pay for other veterinarians’ services. This will help in the long-run to further my education by allowing me to be independent as well as saving some extra money for school.

Another example of how the rural lifestyle I live affects my future is how and where I spend my time. On an average day I choose to go to school, come home, do homework, feed my animals and then exercise my horse. This keeps me out of trouble, off the streets and helps me learn to become a contributing member to society.

When I am home on weekends I choose not to waste my time by talking on the phone or watching television. I am the type of person who prefers to be outside with animals. This preference provides me with a wonderful work ethic and plentiful exercise.

I choose to work very hard in school in order to have a plentiful future. I usually have straight A’s and I am rarely absent or tardy to my classes. I am taking advanced English, biology and geography classes. I am doing very well in all of my other classes also in order to help me get into the college I would like to attend in the future. The choices I make today will help me to achieve my goal of becoming an equine veterinarian.

Last year I chose to work on a horse breeding ranch in a nearby town. This choice helped me clarify what I wanted to do with my life. It was definitely a choice that not only shaped my future, but made my future what I had always dreamt of it being.

I am very proud of the choices I make. I know the choices I make today are building my character as well as shaping my future in a positive way. I hope to become the best person I can possibly be. I would like to go very far in life and also do well for myself and others around me. I understand how my choices that I make today affect me and shape the future into what I want it to be.