With Memorial Day just around the corner, appreciation for American veterans is radiating across the country.

Emily Cotterill, a recent eighth-grade graduate from Paradise Junior High School, was awarded a check last week after being nationally recognized for an essay she wrote during the school year that proclaimed her patriotism.

After taking first place and receiving a $250 prize at the state competition, the student bagged 29th place and a $500 prize nationally thanks to her essay submission themed, “Why I Appreciate America’s Veterans,” in the 2015 National Patriot’s Pen Contest.

“I kind of just did it for fun,” Cotterill said. “It was a huge surprise to win.”

Each year, more than 125,000 sixth- through eighth-grade students across the country participate in the contest that features a grand prize of $5,000 and an all-expense-paid trip to Washington.

The contest is hosted by the Veterans of Foreign Wars, and judging criteria is based upon knowledge, research and clarity.

“It amazes me how willing the veterans are to sacrifice everything to save us,” Cotterill wrote in her essay.

Cotterill’s mother, Angela Cotterill, said her daughter was home-schooled until last year, and the 13-year-old skipped over the seventh grade to advance to eighth grade.

“She’s always been a wonderful writer, so I think this gave her a neat opportunity to write for a good cause,” Angela Cotterill said. “It makes her think more in depth about important issues.”

In her nationally recognized writing, Cotterill spoke about family members that were veterans and how their sacrifices ensure freedom.

“The veterans have done everything in their power to defend America and safeguard our future,” she said.

Cotterill was sponsored by VFW Post No. 6240 and Ladies Auxiliary in Russell.