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Wednesday, Oct. 22, 2008 11:09 am

THEY ARE LEGEND

You're a college-bound high school junior or senior, but your parents' 401K has imploded and the ongoing credit crunch is making it tougher to take out student loans. So what do you do? You do what you've been doing to teachers, coaches, and prospective prom dates for the past three or four years: you suck up. Illinois Dollars for Scholars, a not-for-profit group, is holding its annual Lincolnland Legends essay contest in which participants nominate community leaders who they believe reflect the "courage, vision, ambition, compassion, decision-making, etc." of the contest's namesake and soon-to-be birthday boy, Abraham Lincoln.

Entries are judged by colleges and universities across the state, says Illinois Dollars for Scholars executive director Dick Dystrup. A winning essay, he notes, clearly illustrates how legend nominees exhibit "key Lincoln traits." It also helps to think outside of the box. "A lot of times, they love to nominate teachers because they're familiar and information on them is easy to find. What's tougher is to get out there and pick someone they really don't know a lot about," Dystrup says.

Contest winners — up to 19, one each from each of Illinois' congressional districts —receive scholarships of $4,000 spread out over four years. The top two essays in the state receive $12,000 and $8,000 for first and second place, respectively, also distributed over four years. Essays should be between 750 to 1,000 words, but Dystrup says longer pieces tend to fare better. Entries must be postmarked by Dec. 1, 2008. Winners and their legend nominees will be recognized at an awards gala in Springfield next fall. Visit www.illinoisdollarsforscholars.org for more information.

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