FORT SILL, Okla. (Dec. 19, 2013) -- Growing up as a military child, Emily Banister has first-hand experience of diversity, but a lesson learned within her family helped her to a third place finish in the Oklahoma City National Memorial and Museum's annual essay contest.

The Lawton High School sophomore wrestled with a challenge from her English teacher, Dr. Terrance Freeman, to think beyond generalities and definitions, to find a different way to express what diversity meant to her.

"I went through at least 50 drafts of my introductory paragraph, but couldn't make anything work," said the daughter of Lisa, and Col. Tracy Banister, Fires Center of Excellence and Fort Sill chief of staff. "I was sitting at home one day typing out ideas when I thought of my grandfather's clocks.

"When I was a 3- or 4-year-old and visiting my grandparents, my grandfather would take me through the house and help me wind the clocks it's all I ever wanted to do," she said.

In her 16 years, Emily has met people from throughout the world; in getting to know them, she realized "the world doesn't revolve around you."

Previously, the family was stationed in South Korea where Emily attended a small school with students from Kenya, the Philippines, Korea, Canada and Honduras.

"Because I've been so many places and met so many people, I don't see what a person looks like as much anymore. It's just a person, and someone who I can learn from through their different experiences and where they've come from."

Having returned to Fort Sill, Emily added a second high school to her diverse education resume which includes four middle and two elementary schools.

"One of Emily's biggest challenges is Lawton High, the biggest school she's ever been to," said Lisa. "But, the opportunities inherent in going to a larger school sometimes outweigh the close friendships that can form at smaller schools."

She added Emily is taking a pre-advanced placement course in literature, something that likely wouldn't have been available to her daughter in the small Korean school. Lisa also works for the Lawton school district as a physical therapist.

"I knew the Lawton district was a great district and has a lot to offer my children," she said.

Emily said she is working through several other essay contests that Freeman suggested she enter. Perhaps none though will have a message so close to heart as this one.

From time to time, one of her grandfather's clocks would break, and he would show her how he repaired the time pieces.

"A clock consists of gears, springs and pulley systems, which can't work without the pulleys and ropes," said Emily.

She envisioned America as a big clock with its citizens of various ethnic and cultural backgrounds being its parts. Should one of those components break, the clock ceases to function.

"America's done a really good job of fixing its broken clock whenever it happens; like the the Boston Marathon and the Oklahoma City bombing. We were a battered clock after that man drove that truck loaded with fertilizer and blew up the building; but ... we were able to rise up from it and overcome."

This year's student essay contest theme was "the positive power of diversity in America." Students from 12 states competed in the contest in four age categories. Judges picked through about 225 essays in each category to select the top three finishers.

According to the memorial museum's web page, the April 19, 1995, bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City occurred because people chose violence as a means to express disagreement and effect change - and 168 innocent people were killed.

The 2013 essay contest highlighted the importance of remembrance and respect for diversity in making the world a better place.