Three Lourdes Central Catholic School seniors were announced as the three winners of the Second-Annual Optimist Club of Nebraska City’s Essay Contest during a dinner ceremony in the basement of American National Bank Thursday evening.

Josie Carpenter, Emily Warden and Nick Whitten were selected out of 17 essay entries by a group of three judges as this year’s winners. Carpenter was the first-place winner and took home a $100 prize. Warden earned second place and won $50. Whitten was the third-place winner and took home the $25 prize.

Carpenter’s essay will be sent in with other district winners’ essays to the districts competition be judged in South Sioux City. The winning essay from that round will earn a $2,500 college scholarship. The winner will be announced the first part of May.

Carpenter, Warden and Whitten had to write a maximum 800-word essay about the contest’s theme “Lead By Example: Reality or Fiction.” Optimist Club of Nebraska City secretary and treasurer and essay contest coordinator Katie Mocnik said this year’s theme was a tough subject for students to write about, and any high school student in Nebraska City and the surrounding area could’ve entered the annual contest.

After sitting down with their families for a soup dinner, all three students went up to the podium to read their winning essays.

Carpenter’s essay was about how a successful leader should lead by example and walk the walk so to speak.

“My essay was mainly about leadership and how you have to be able to be a leader in the way that … if you want to be a leader then you have to lead by example,” she said. “And I mentioned Jesus in it and how he led by example in many different ways.”

Carpenter was nervous about using Jesus as an example of being a great leader because she didn’t want to offend people who may not share her religious beliefs. She took a bold move and stayed true to her faith and herself.

Competing in the contest allowed her to learn how to take steps to become a leader and how sometimes a person has to stay true to their roots to lead others.

“(I learned) that you’ve got to go out of your comfort zone. I’m not really good about public speaking and I had to face my fear and read my essay in front of people,” she said. “But other than that just be a good leader and show what you can do.”

She said if she wins the district competition, the extra $2,500 scholarship will come in handy when she attends Wayne State College in Wayne this fall to major in pre-med.

Warden’s essay was about how strong and good leaders should lead by example.

“ … People who lead by example create good leaders because they have good leadership skills,” she said.

She also praised her parents, Doug and Joy Warden, in her speech for demonstrating to her of what being a good leader means.

“At one point I wrote about my parents and at that point I was able to reflect how they had influenced me and it just gave me a greater appreciation because I grew up with good leaders,” she said. “I’m becoming a good leader and I can pass that example on to other people.”

Warden plans on attending Nebraska Wesleyan University in Lincoln this fall for nursing.

Whitten’s essay was about showing others how to be a great leader, but to go down the path with them. He highlighted Jim Wooden, who was the UCLA men’s basketball coach in the 1960s and 1970s, because Wooden aimed to prepare his team to be leaders on and off of the court.

“He prepared them for life after (basketball) and he did this by showing them that in order to live their life they have to prepare themselves for not only what they’re going to do on the court, but what they’re going to do off of the court,” he said, “and he held each of his players, athletes and students to that same level that he held himself to.”

Whitten said the essay contest taught him how to form his thoughts and pen them on paper.

“It gives me another opportunity to get writing down and preparing myself for writing in college and then after college - no matter what I do in my occupation. So I think it’s a good thing for kids to do - just get out and do,” he said. “I mean it’s just one essay that you have to write and that one essay gives you opportunities to do a lot of great things.”

Whitten plans on attending the University of Nebraska-Lincoln for pre-law.

Optimist Club of Nebraska City member and Nebraska district Past-Gov. Diane Siefkes of Lincoln was impressed with the amount of essay contest entries and the Optimist Club of Nebraska City is hoping to have an oratorical contest next year to give students a chance to win a $25,000 college scholarship.

“Thanks to all of the families and kids for participating,” Siefkes said.

The Optimist Club of Nebraska City was formed two years ago and is a philanthropic organization that is focused on youth. Mocnik said the group is looking for more members to join.

The organization meets every Thursday evening at 6:30 in the basement of American National Bank, located at 920 Central Ave. Mocnik said there is usually a speaker at every meeting and anyone is welcome to attend the meetings.