As part of the celebration for last weekend's fifth annual Columbia International Day, the Columbia Association sponsored an essay contest inviting elementary and middle school children to write about how Columbia embraces different cultures and promotes diversity.

The students were to pretend that they were writing a letter to welcome another child who is moving to Columbia. Following are the winning essays.

Dear Kareem,

I will tell you about what makes Columbia such a great place. The Columbia Association provides indoor, outdoor pools and many sport activities. People live and work together because people don't care about races. There's lots of parks where you can do activities. There's lots of schools private and public.

If you choose to live here you'll like it. The city's free. There's lots of people from different places from the world. There's meeting centers where people share things. You can be in many religions and practice them too. It's not like other countries.

That's why Columbia is great.

Yours truly,

Julio Medrano

Jeffers Hill Elementary, third grade.

First place, $50 award

Dear Newcomer,

Welcome to the unique place, Columbia. William Cowper wrote, "God made the country, and man made the town." Columbia is a place where quality of a village amalgamated with the quality of a town. This city gives you multicultural diversity. People won't discriminate [against] you for your race, color or ethnicity. Columbia maintains its controlled growth in order to achieve the village setting of environment in a town--wide open sky above, green open space, beautiful flowers, pathways, etc. Hope you will enjoy this city once you start living here.

Yours truly,

Sreya Mitra

Mayfield Woods Middle School, eighth grade

First place, $50 award

(More essays from the contest sponsored by the Columbia Association. Elementary and middle school students were invited to write about how Columbia embraces different cultures and promotes diversity.)

Dear Brian,

I think you will love Columbia, Maryland. There are many nice people from all sorts of places. In fact, there are people from Korea, Iran, China, Africa and Russia, and we're all friends. I'm sure you'll make friends of different ages and different sizes. But you'll keep old friends. Just remember, you'll always be treated special wherever you are.

Your buddy,

Katy Rennenkampf

Jeffers Hill Elementary, second grade.

Honorable mention

Dear Friend,

I'm glad you're coming to live in Columbia! Columbia is a special place because you can make many friends. In Columbia there's many schools to learn in. Another reason you should come is because you can go to beaches or go to the Baltimore Harbor. In Columbia we celebrate similarities and differences by raising our hands and saying things about ourselves, like where we're from, how many people are in our family, and our ages. Then we tell about another person, and see what we have in common. We celebrate differences in the same way. That's why you should live in Columbia!

From,

Brittany Riggin

Jeffers Hill Elementary, second grade

Honorable mention

CAPTION: Gabrielle Cha, 4, of Columbia, sits for a sketch during the festival. Artist Dan Ginter, of Baltimore, was one of a number of artisans and craftspeople who provided entertainment at the fifth annual event.

CAPTION: Columbia resident Leo McPherson, 76, right, gets up in front of the stage and dances with Kofi Dennis, of the Fritete Dance and Drum Ensemble of Ghana, at Columbia's International Day celebration.

CAPTION: Kwame Ansah Brew, a member of the Fritete Dance and Drum Ensemble of Ghana, plays at the Columbia International Day celebration last weekend. The celebration included the festival and an essay contest.

CAPTION: What international celebration would be complete without an assortment of international foods to sample? Kannika Brown makes some fried rice for hungry festival-goers during the Columbia event.