WHMS 8th-grader wins national WWII essay contest

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Domenic Kaffenberger, a Western Hills Middle School eighth-grader, has been named an award-winner in the 2017 Annual Student Essay Contest sponsored by the National WWII Museum in New Orleans. Kaffenberger won for his essay about indifference, which stemmed from a quote by Elie Wiesel in his book, Night.

"I had read the book on my own, and I understood how deeply Wiesel felt about indifference," said Kaffenberger. "I understand how today it strongly impacts us."

When his English Language Arts teacher, Hank Maine, offered the students the option of doing the essay contest in lieu of reading one of the required four independent readings for the quarter, Kaffenberger took him up on it.

"As a research and writing project, it was equivalent to reading a book for the reading requirement, and about a quarter of the team took me up on it," Maine said. "Domenic thinks at a very high level and we talk about that higher-level thinking a lot in class. Our group discussions often go in unbelievable directions and I always want them to bring their discussions to that next level. Domenic certainly does that."

Weisel's quote from Night, that was the prompt for the student essays was, "The opposite of love is not hate, it's indifference. The opposite of beauty is not ugliness, it's indifference. The opposite of faith is not heresy, it's indifference. And the opposite of life is not death, but indifference between life and death."

"As a Jewish man living during the Holocaust, he felt that if good people had done something to prevent that, he wouldn't have lost so much," Kaffenberger said. "I agree with him, and I had to explain why I agreed with him and how in this current day it's still affecting us. I can see the connection between past history and now. I really think that indifference is the cause of everything that troubles us. I believe that the only way for evil to conquer good is to do nothing, and I think that is something we need to fix in this world."

Kaffenberger believes that even young students can make a difference in changing the world.

"I think that it matters what type of environment you grow up in," he said. "If you are raised to be cruel and mean then you might always be that way. If you are raised to see the good in people and you have hope, that's how it'll be for you."

The essay contest was just one that Maine offers throughout the year, and he very often has winners from his class. Kaffenberger had not entered an essay contest before, but definitely plans to enter another contest again in the future.

The WWII essay contest was open to students in grades 5-12 nationwide, garnering approximately 1,000 entries. The high school category had three winners. The middle school category had one winner each, in grades five, six, seven and eight, nationwide. Kaffenberger was the winner for the eighth grade and was one of 200 entries at the middle school level. A cash prize was awarded to the school and to Kaffenberger himself.

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