2015 Peace Essay Contest: High School winners

1st Place:  Michelle Page, gr. 10, Patrick Henry HS, Hanover Co. Public Schools
2nd Place:  Erin Strasser, gr. 12, James River HS, Chesterfield Co. Public Schools
3rd  Place:  William Ford, gr. 10, Atlee HS, Hanover Co. Public Schools
Honorable Mention:  Ben Hazelton, gr. 9, Maggie Walker Governor’s School  


1st Place: Michelle Page, gr. 10, Patrick Henry HS, Hanover Co. Public Schools

Inspirations of Soil and Seed

Listen to Michelle’s recording from WRIR

The Earth consists of soil, water, and minerals that miraculously combine to compose life. As a home to various life forms, she allows diversity to thrive off of her very essence, but is only marred and neglected by the very ones she helps. Purely herself, she continues to craft and promote the vitality of man, animal, and plant, deeply scarred. Through observation, I have noticed that the Earth’s love is not found on the growth of her surface, but within the deep hurt of what was stolen from her roots. With man’s “progression” she has become swallowed in concrete and empty forests, yet her ability to continue grants her an inspirational beauty that is so incredibly raw and painful that it demonstrates the true definition of love. I am inspired by the liberation of the Earth’s divine beauty, love, and endurance to create peace, craft a future with purpose, and empower those who live with life.

My utilization of this inspiration includes the poetry and art I create. My life is immersed with this love I have found for the Earth, harnessing her energy, I write poems with themes of conservation, her love, and her brokenness. Much of my artwork contains these same themes. Rachael Carson is also a huge source of inspiration to me. Her book, Silent Spring, describes the harmful nature of toxins pumped into the Earth by humans. This revolutionary book opened the eyes of man, showing him that we must protect, for if we do not, we leave Earth destitute. Carson was, and I am, inspired by protecting the Earth through words. I believe that we both intend our words to stretch further than the page, to stretch into the hearts and minds of all, creating peace and growth, instead of war and death. With my passion to create, I hope to infuse my ideas, just as Carson, into society in order to bring serene harmony between man and soil, protecting diversity and its mother.

With decisions about my future looming over my head, I have thought long and hard about what I want to do with my life, and realized I want to give back to the Earth, after taking from her for so long. I wish to further educate myself at a college as a biologist, botanist, and conversationalist. Then I dream of traveling, spreading growth and the things I’ve learned; giving to man, soil, and sea the vitality that the Earth has so graciously given me. Through the simplicity of her gentleness and humility, the Earth has instilled dreams of a better world within me that I can create with the passions of my being and the determinations of my heart.

The Earth has taught me much about survival, giving back, and forgiveness. After being torn apart at the seams and tortured by those who have no heart for her pain, the Earth continues to survive, getting up instead of giving up. Still she gives to all who exist upon and within her soils, allowing her forgiveness to become evident. The Earth has taught me that the most important thing to do is empower. Jane Goodall’s lifelong journey with nature is another inspiration to me. She studied chimpanzees within the jungles of Africa, taking their hand as a friend, not a scientist. Goodall brought man and creature together, pioneering the way to the equality and empowerment of all life. Inspired by the livelihood of Earth, I hope to befriend the wilderness, just as Goodall has done before me, empowering all through the roots of native soil.

I have come to a point in my life where I must stand up for what I believe in or get swallowed by the world and its voice. With my poetry, art, and dreams I hope to shine the importance of conserving the trees, creatures, and lands upon which man lives and thrives. I desire for my life to make an impact of peace and growth for all nations, peoples, and cultures. Inspired by the earth, the melody of her essence speaks to my heart, challenging me to empower those both rooted in soil and bound by flesh.



2nd Place: Erin Strasser, gr. 12, James River HS, Chesterfield Co. Public Schools

Listen to Erin’s recording from WRIR

My hands were quaking with pure excitement as I carefully added the final touches to my masterpiece. I looked directly into my model’s eye, straightened the bonnet, coated the lips with an extra layer of hot pink lipstick, and applied a subtle yet eye-catching layer of blush to enhance the natural rosiness of the cheeks. I giggled, still looking at my model in admiration, content with my artistry, and said, “You look amazing, Dad.”

For most twelve-year-old girls, covering their father-s face in obnoxiously bright makeup might make for an embarrassing moment, a memory to run away from as fast as possible and never, EVER mention. For me though, the bizarre day I covered my dad’s face with feminine beauty products will be a day I cherish forever.

My mom was diagnosed with breast cancer when I was twelve years old. As someone who constantly thought of her mom as indestructible, I struggled with watching her slowly turn from Wonder Woman to a fragile, fatigued figure. The hardest part about watching her suffer was the fact that I couldn’t help her. In my mind, there was nothing I could do to take away her pain, and nothing I could do to cure her disease.

Dad looked at the situation differently. Rather than feeling helpless in an unwinnable battle, he decided to take action. And yes, his idea of “taking action” included recruiting me as his makeup design specialist.

Obviously, when I was first approached in regards to my makeup expertise, I was a little worried, and very, very confused. There was no need to be concerned. As it turns out, my dad was not going through an anxiety-ridden crisis or a dramatic mid-life internal revelation, as I had feared. Rather, he was acting as an inspiration for me to follow in the future. In addition to coating his face in layers upon layers of cosmetics, he dressed in a horribly bright, yellow polka-dotted clown costume. His freshly-created persona later made an appearance at the chemotherapy clinic where my mom was receiving her treatment. Sitting with my mom and the other cancer patients, with a wicker basket filled with candy, he made everyone laugh and smile by cracking jokes and handing out the sugary treats.

Every situation, no matter how dire it initially seems, can be viewed in two different lights. You can either run from it, or you can run headfirst into it, like my dad did in response to my mom’s cancer diagnosis. Running into a situation with an innovative mindset will create positive results, even if the result is something as simple as causing a sick little boy’s face to light up because a ridiculous-looking clown appears with a basketful of candy.

That day, as my dad asked for makeup advice, he inspired me to make a positive impact on my community by joining the fight against cancer. Rather than running away from my mom’s cancer diagnosis, or even running headfirst into the situation, I chose to run with and for it. Eventually deciding to mimic my dad’s mindset, I decided to take action myself. That year, I organized a 5K run to raise money for the American Cancer Society. My initial goal was to raise $1,000 that would help fund cancer research and pay for chemotherapy treatments of cancer patients within my community unable to afford them. Instead, I proudly walked away with $8,500, enough to ignite a passion within me and cause the run to become an annual occurrence, now known as “The Rack Race 5K.” Over the past six years, in honor of my mom, I have donated over $50,000 towards winning a battle that most people consider unwinnable, much like I did before witnessing my dad’s inspiring attitude.

My mom was pronounced cancer free a few months later, and recently celebrated her five-year cancer-free milestone. Now, to celebrate her good health, she chooses to run with the same positive mindset she witnessed during her sickness, hoping to impact others and continue the line of inspiration my dad first started by inspiring me.



3rd Place: William Ford, gr. 10, Atlee HS, Hanover Co. Public Schools

Inspiration Drives the World Forward

What is inspiration? Well, the answer to this can’t be given in one simple statement. Although it is difficult to describe, it is not difficult to understand the impact it can have on society. Inspiration has revolutionized and powered our world ahead throughout history. Whether it has advanced culture, society, or technology, it has made a major impact on the globe. So where does inspiration come from? It can come in many ways, but mostly from the desire to make the world and ourselves the best we are capable of being. This is what inspires me.

One of the most impactful and memorable examples of inspiration comes from our own country and one of our most influential people in our country’s history, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Of course, many other Americans were striving to achieve the same goal, but Martin Luther King Jr. was one of the main leaders in the civil rights movement and gave his nation-changing ‘I have a Dream’ speech. Because of him, our country learned to equally treat everyone regardless of color and race. This was his goal and dream that he had for our nation and world. He was inspired to lead the non-violent charge for change because he and others knew that racism wasn’t acceptable and was holding our nation back. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was inspired to correct the deficiencies and unfairness in society so that every American could have an equal opportunity to succeed in the pursuit of happiness. His powerful civil rights movement work and his iconic speech helped inspire others to join him in his pursuit of his goals. Dr. King’s inspiration for a better country helped transform our nation into the fair and equal one we all know today.

Even in today’s world, everything is not equal. Malala Yousafzai knows this all too well. She knows that every person, male or female, deserves the right to education. So when the Taliban started destroying girl’s schools, Malala was inspired to speak out against it. Because of the support she received, the Taliban made an effort to assassinate her. Fortunately, she survived and is stronger than ever. Her love for her and others’ education and equality inspired her to speak out against the very violent and dangerous Taliban. She knows that changes need to be made in order for the rest of the world to get the equality and education they deserve without the fear of violence from terrorist groups. Her powerful and passionate efforts for women’s equality is driving others to join her efforts. Malala’s courage and inspiration for women’s’ education is helping develop our world into a better place to live.

The reason Malala and Martin Luther King Jr. were able to make such a positive impact was because they were very passionate about what they were doing. This made others want to assist in creating a better world. Although we may not notice it, if we are also passionate about reaching our goals, our very own peers may aid us in our journey or strive for similar interests. I experienced this two years ago when choosing my school courses for my freshman year in high school. I became very lost and anxious when trying to figure out how rigorous to make my schedule. Naturally, I turned to my friends for guidance. When discussing the topic with them, I discovered their fire and desire for achieving the highest level of education. In order to achieve this, they loaded up on the most rigorous courses there were to offer. After seeing their sacrifice and determination, I was confident in going down the same road they planned on going. My friends’ passion for their education ultimately inspired me to join them and feel the same way about my academic curriculum.

Throughout our world’s and our country’s history, technology and culture have been slowly changing and adapting to fit an ever transforming society. It almost seems like a natural occurrence. In reality, it is people like Martin Luther King Jr. and Malala Yousafzai who refine society for the common good.   If people like Malala and Dr. King didn’t exist, the morals and beliefs of the world would never be revolutionized in order to create better lives for all living people. Leaders who possess great passion and heart for the common good ultimately encourage others to help lead the non-violent charge for change. The opportunity to stand strong with our peers and make a positive impact is what inspires me and others. If we all join together and love one another, nothing can break us. Together we all can make small contributions that will slowly transform our world into a perfect place to live. But in order to accomplish this, we must be inspired.



Honorable Mention: Ben Hazelton, gr. 9, Maggie Walker Governor’s School

The Inspiration of the Everyday

Inspiration derived from a variety of people has been a hallmark of my life. I have been inspired by well-known historical figures to unsung heroes. Education affords learning opportunities that expose heroism, altruism, bravery, and other admirable virtues. These learning opportunities are augmented by interpersonal relationships that have buttressed my social consciousness.


For twelve years, my sister, Gracie, attended therapy sessions, hospital visits, and various medical specialists accompanied by me. She was born with a rare neuromuscular disorder called arthrogryposis. Gracie was rendered non-verbal, non-ambulatory, and cognitively delayed by the disorder. Despite the vicissitudes of her life, she continued to smile and laugh until her premature death at the age of 15, two years ago. Gracie’s radiant smile, flirtatious winks, and wicked laugh shaped those around her. She gave everyone unconditional love.


Despite the years of pain and struggling, she continued to fight and enjoy life. From Gracie and all of her doctors, therapists, teachers, and friends, I recognized a problem in our community; the marginalization of people with disabilities. Gracie developed my social consciousness. I was inspired by her and by the people who helped her. I realized at a young age that I wanted to be a neurologist in order to help the special needs community. For the past five years, I have forged relationships and watched joyous faces every Saturday at a special needs program called RVAccess.


Playing with my buddy, Dean, diagnosed with Prader-Willi Syndrome, I have directed my grief by cultivating our relationship. Through my sister’s inspiration and memory, I have forged an opportunity to inspire others as well. Since Gracie’s death, RVAccess has expanded. Currently, over 140 children with special needs and 200 volunteers attend RVAccess. Knowing that you can help others is what makes your heart sing.


The simple yet therapeutic acts of deciding to donate my sisters organs and dedicating time for developing a nonprofit organization have helped my heart heal. Furthermore, I have learned to cherish and enjoy every second on Earth, just as my sister did. She is my greatest inspiration, and I hope to continue her legacy in everything that I do.


Despite the grief from her death, I know that I am fortunate to have had Gracie in my life for 12 years. I wonder how others can be inspired who are not as fortunate to have a “Grace” in their lives. Some may think that in today’s world of disease, terror, and hate that it may be hard to find sources of inspiration in the everyday. In fact, disease, terror, and hate develop the strongest acts of altruism, love, and passion.


From disease scientists have found cures, philanthropists have donated money, and volunteers have committed large acts of kindness. From terror, inspirational leaders have formed, acts of grace have been made, and humanity as a whole has learned valuable lessons. Only the strongest though can fight hatred. Only with love can hate be defeated. Only those that are truly inspirational, the likes of Gandhi, Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King, have demonstrated love and acceptance of the most maligned. Hatred withers when combated with love. Only those that have learned to enshrine life, develop a passion, and become inspired to act upon a mission have been able to attack hatred.


Through a simple idea of non-violence Gandhi was able to help gain independence for India and halt violence in his country. Nelson Mandela was able to free blacks from the stranglehold of the apartheid through his sheer determination and drive for independence. Martin Luther King become immortalized through his tenacious, relentless, and eloquent speeches striving for equal rights for all American citizens. These heroes gave their presence on Earth purpose. They have left an impact on others and will be forever remembered.

“… each of us must do something that makes our hearts sing, because no one will want to do it with us if we are not passionate and inspired.” If heroes such as Gandhi, Mandela, and King never existed, what would humanity be like today? As a teenager stumbling through adolescence, I do not know if there is a heaven, moksha, a god, or a meaning to life. Although, one day when I am resting on my deathbed, all that I will truly care about is whether I left a positive impact on others. If I inspired and helped others, then I will believe that I gave my existence purpose. Best of all, knowing this I will be happy. My sister, more well known heroes, and the smallest acts of kindness are various sources of inspiration to me. My real inspiration though is hoping that my soul vanquishes one day, but my spirit lives in others.