Tenth-grade Long Beach student, Loyalty Traster-Lee, won First Place in the Knights of Columbus Essay contest themed, “The Importance of Religious Freedom.”  

This is the first time the Knights of Columbus Council 9594 of St. Anne’s in Seal Beach participated in the annual contest. The Order of Knights of Columbus encourages all councils and assemblies to sponsor the Knights of Columbus Essay Contest each year for Catholic students in public, parochial and private schools in 8th-12th grades.  

The Knights hope the essay contest will encourage young people to become citizens who are firmly grounded in their faith. Loyalty, who is a practicing Catholic, is homeschooled and takes classes online through the California Virtual Academy (CAVA).  

“I am thrilled of course. We are very proud of her. It is very rewarding for us as parents. What we have taught her has taken root. She has done it herself,” said Michelle Lee, Loyalty’s mother.  

Being a student in CAVA gives Loyalty the flexibility to compete in outside activities like the Knights of Columbus Essay contest and to volunteer in local parishes and community centers.

“At St. Joseph’s, I help out at the Sunday School program, and at St. Anne’s, I often help out as a server during parish meals. I also volunteer weekly at Bayshore Library, Pacific Marine Mammal Center, Long Beach Animal Shelter, and West Coast Wing Chun,” said Loyalty.  

Loyalty, who is 15, gives back to the community in many ways, all while maintaining a 4.4 grade point average. CAVA, an online charter school, provides a classical education. Loyalty takes six one-hour classes a day. Currently, she is taking two AP courses and two honors classes. Loyalty credits her English teachers in helping her shape her Knights of Columbus Essay.

“My English teachers have always given me constructive criticism for my writing. Their feedback helps me grow as a writer and a student,” said Loyalty.

Loyalty, who has a love of learning and experiencing new things, decided to enter the Knights of Columbus Essay contest because of her carpe diem mentality.

“I believe that if something doesn’t have drastic negative consequences, you should go for it. I apply this mentality to everything from dancing in public to entering writing contests,” Loyalty said.

The theme of the essay “The Importance of Religious Freedom” interested Loyalty, as her parents have always been instrumental in her own faith development. As a means of educating Loyalty on other religions, her parents took her to the Zoroastrian Center in Westminster, the Buddhist Temple in Whittier, a Thaipusam festival in Singapore and a mosque in Malaysia.

After exploring other religions, Loyalty says she now “owns” her Catholic faith. It is what she believes, not just what her family or friends believe.

Loyalty also believes that religious freedom should not come with conditions.

“If you say, for example, that everyone can practice whatever faith they want if they make over $100,000 a year, then that isn’t true freedom, and you have alienated your fellow human beings. We all deserve respect as well, even if you don’t really understand certain practices or beliefs,” said Loyalty.

For her efforts, Loyalty was awarded $100 and a plaque on Monday, Feb. 2, at the Knights of Columbus Council 9594 general meeting.