An obscure World War II poster helped a Pacific High School senior win a national essay contest and a cash prize.

An unknown civil servant coined the simple phrase, “Keep Calm and Carry On,” to inspire English citizens during the dark times of World War II.

A poster was printed with white words on a red background as part of the Ministry of Information war effort.

The poster was poorly distributed and went into obscurity for more than 50 years until a copy was uncovered in a bookstore in northeast England in the 1990s and the phrase was soon adapted by modern slogan-hungry T-shirt and coffee mug aficionados.

“Keep Calm and Look Busy,” “Keep Calm and Go Shopping,” “Keep Calm and Drink Tea,” “Keep Calm and Watch TV,” are recognizable variations on the slogan that have found their way into contemporary culture.

Although the rediscovery of the poster and the trip to modern aphorisms illustrates the usefulness of the four-word slogan, more than other catch phrases the words describe the dogged determination of Winston Churchill, who was British prime minister at the time the poster was printed, according to Pacific High senior Mikaela Speakes.

Speakes’ essay “Keep Calm and Carry On,” won second place in the 2011-12 Winston Churchill Memorial national student essay contest. She received a $100 check for her winning entry.

“The slogan became a symbol of Churchill’s service as prime minister,” Speakes wrote.

It is not surprising that the slogan, so associated with Churchill, is used in so many settings in today’s stressful life.

“To me, the motto, ‘Keep Calm and Carry On,’ helps me make it through my stressful day,” Speakes said. “Being a senior in high school and working every day after school, there is not much time left in the day for the various things I have to do.”

This phrase can be applied to almost every concept from Winston Churchill’s service as prime minister to the uncertainty within our nation’s current financial problems, Speakes concluded.

“The phrase ‘Keep Calm and Carry On’ has an interesting background, but will also continue to inspire many in the future,” she said.

This is the fourth year for the Winston Churchill Memorial Library student essay contest.

Mandy Plybon, National Churchill Museum education and public programs coordinator, introduced Speakes at the May 16 school board meeting, which was held in the Pacific High School Auditorium, noting that it is research and narrative, like Speakes, six-page essay that help to keep Churchill’s service to humanity relevant.

Nancy Thater, MVR-III Odyssey director, encourages her students to look at Churchill and consider entering the essay contest.

In 2008-09, the first year of the national competition, three Pacific High School students submitted essays that won: Colton Richardson won first place, Danny Missey won second place and William Schmitz won third place.