High School Winning Essays 2017

1st Place: Ellie Vick, gr. 11, The Fuqua School, Farmville VA

            While America is the one of the most culturally different countries in the world, there seems to have always been a sense of community through American pride. The land of the free and home of the brave is our country, and as a country we must ensure respect and understanding for those of different cultures.

            As a community, Americans need to keep an open mind to cultures and traditions that are unfamiliar. Additionally, we need to recognize that all people are different. It’s important to challenge yourself to learn about other people and their heritages. When learning about others, you may find their backgrounds interesting, and different practices may appeal to you. By doing this, you gain a broader understanding of people worldwide.

            A way to begin reaching out to others, specifically in attempt to learn about their heritage, is to simply ask questions. Getting to know people in your area is only the start. Introducing friends and family to those people you’ve met that come from a culture interesting to you is another way to earn respect for heritages worldwide. By extension, building relationships with people different from you is valuable. Just because people are different from you does not mean you should shy away from them. After all, different is admirable.

            Nevertheless, all the things in the previous paragraph are useful, but there are many ways to reach the end goal of having an understanding and respecting people all around the world in your school, neighborhood, and nation. Beginning with schools, I have seen firsthand different ideas to encourage all students and faculty to share their backgrounds. When a Netherlands exchange student came to my school, I quickly learned how amazing differences can be between people. I was shocked when I realized her traditions and beliefs that seemed far from my own were similar. With many other foreign students at school, including Chinese, our school worked to have a Chinese New Year celebration to push students to learn more about the Chinese culture. This was exceedingly successful in that matter, but, more importantly, the celebration generated positive attitudes and caused the Chinese students to be involved in the school. From personal experience, I know that other heritage days similar to that one would be beneficial for all attendants.

            Additionally, hosting events or going to events in your neighborhood is great way to reach out to others. Community parties do not even have to be planned for the purpose of understanding someone else’s background. By coming together, you are given an opportunity to speak and get to know people to learn about their lives without social media, one of the world’s most popular ways of communicating and spreading news.

            The best idea I have for achieving the global admiration that is desired for each culture is in relation to social media. Nationally, it would help people feel secure to end the generalizing of races and cultures which is prevalent in social media. Instead, promoting support of Americans and all people is a step in the right direction. Heritage, to me, should be the number one thing never to be judged.

            Overall, America is a place that should be welcoming of all people, and with the ideas I have provided, I believe the fathomability of human backgrounds can be grasped and appreciated. People from everywhere have built the United States, but our job now is to hold it together by accepting everyone.

2nd Place: Thomas Cody Howard, gr. 11, The Fuqua School

Peace Essay

            The United States is one of the most culturally diverse places in the world. So diverse in fact that it has earned the nickname “the melting pot” to describe the wide range of cultures that can be found within our borders. However in a country of such diversity there is bound to be differences between the different groups of people, and in some cases these differences can have an adverse effect on the country’s growth. For example the discrimination against blacks and women that took place in this country for such a long period of our history made it nearly impossible for either of these groups to make if far in society subsequently preventing many people from achieving any level of success. Even today people still face discrimination in different areas of the country solely based off of color, religion, or sex.

            Part of the reason that there is so much tension between different cultures is the lack of understanding between each other. Ignorance of another cultures struggles and daily life can cause a group of people to be unsympathetic to another and to not feel concerned with the others problems. This is why it is so important for people to become more aware of what one another goes through as to make people care and promote a sense of community among one another. One possible way to accomplish this goal would be to just simply ask about someone else’s life. When a person takes the time to ask about someone else and about their life, they become more aware of their differences and how to be sympathetic toward each other. More importantly however it enables people to find similarities between each other. As humans we tend to gravitate towards people with similar interests and experiences, so when we are able to find what is similar between us rather than focusing on what is different we tend to cooperate more and understand each other better.

            Throughout history people have proven time and time again that through cooperation and perseverance anything can be achieved. Martin Luther King JR and Elizabeth Cady Stanton both proved that we can change the way an entire country thinks by working together. The same is true of towns and communities. When people of different heritage and ethnic backgrounds come together for the betterment of the community, it leads to a happier town and an increased quality of life. Putting down our differences and coming together to promote progress is the only way to ensure that America continues to become a place of peace and prosperity.

3rd Place: Molly Fletcher, gr. 12, Midlothian H.S., Chesterfield VA

            The world is filled with so many different cultures and backgrounds. Sometimes it is easy to get caught up in our own community and never experience something different. I have had the opportunity to go to the Dominican Republic for a missions trip with my church. It gave me a whole new perspective on poverty. The people in the Dominican may be materially impoverished, but spiritually, they are far more wealthy than the American people I interact with. They focus on the things in life that will last beyond the time they are living. They leave legacies in their communities. Many of the families can not afford schools so the mothers have started their own. They educate their children and raise them to be productive citizens and to exemplify good character.

            My experience in the Dominican Republic has shown me what it looks like to be in community with other people and it changed my perspective on people that come from different backgrounds. It has driven me to seek understanding from other people rather than jumping to conclusions about them based on where they are from or what they look like. As an individual, I can meet new people and listen to their stories. This will help me to build relationships with them and broaden my perspective of the diversity in my own community. I can also step out of my comfort zone and go to events where I would be in the minority. This would enable me to experience different cultures and it could change the way I view other people’s practices.

            I hope to get my degree in elementary education when I attend James Madison University next year. Being a teacher is valuable in a community because it gives me the opportunity to have a direct influence on the next generation. My hope is that when I am a teacher, I will encourage my students to have a global perspective. It is almost effortless for us to live our “easy” American lives, but I want them to know that the way we live is not the only way to live. When they visit other places, I don’t want them to think that their way is the best way and that everyone else should convert to the American way of thinking. I want them to be willing to learn things from other people and adapt to other ways of living life. By doing this, they will be able to create trustworthy relationships which leads to more peaceful interactions. I hope that my impact as a teacher will ultimately have an impact on the world.

            As a school, it is important that events are hosted that promote the mixing of different cultures. It is crucial that the school promotes an environment of respect as well as mutual discovery. Everyone has so much to learn from others and it would be terrible if someone were to go through all of their years of school and never diversify their friendships beyond their own comfort zone. It is important that we are open to relationships that are unexpected. One way that the community can easily be involved in creating a diverse environment is for them to intentionally provide opportunities for the citizens to learn about different cultures. This might look like hosting music or dance events, having speakers come in from different countries, and even teaching different languages.

            Nationwide, it is important that the government officials are respectful of other countries ideals. This sets a strong example of respect and honor for the citizens. Unless they are putting United States citizens in immediate danger, we should be respectful of other countries practices that will help to promote peaceful relationships.

            Why do we seek to obtain such an unreachable goal as world peace? Most people would agree that world peace will never actually happen because there will always be an immense amount of conflict in the world. It is important to not be in denial of the fact that the world has an ongoing struggle with disagreeing. No one person has the power to change the world, however, they do have the ability to allow themselves to change. Peace will only come when we are willing to let down barriers that keep us from understanding one another. By changing our attitudes and opening up our hearts to accept different cultures and different types of people, we will change the world little by little. The world will become a place of trust rather than suspicion. It  will become a place of humility rather than pride. Most importantly, it will become a place of peace rather than battle.   

Honorable Mentions:

Camila Ibarra Bernal, gr. 11, The Fuqua School


   Have you ever felt that you don’t belong anywhere anymore? It can be considered a peculiar thought, indeed, but if you perceive it, you will be building something really important nowadays: respect. Let me redo the question, then…

   Have you ever felt that you belong everywhere?

   For eight months already, I have been observing the American culture and its different backgrounds from my Spanish point of view. A variety of religions, beliefs and ethnicities create a country called America.

   Coming to Virginia was my first step to start building understanding. As people embraced me in their culture and helped me to acquire new experiences, I have been doing several things to make them know the best part of Spain. Just cooking, talking about it, or even showing pictures can make strong links among different nationalities.

   In my opinion, the best way to build a community based on respect is found in the education we give to our youngest children. If they get used since they are born that everyone’s characteristics compose special and unique human beings, not worse versions of themselves, the future generation will surely be able to create a community that will adore diversity. For example, last Christmas, the Spanish class and I organized various stations in our lower school: in one of them, they listened to popular stories in Spanish; in the second one, they learnt a Spanish Christmas song; and in the third one, they represented the Spanish Christmas tradition of the Three Wise Men. Those little kids thoroughly enjoyed gaining knowledge about a different nation.

   This year, I have had as well the opportunity to meet people from more than ten countries, including Indonesia, France, Mexico, Germany, Thailand, China, Japan, Ukraine, Georgia, Lebanon, etc. They made me see a variety of ideas and cultures that I could have never seen staying in Spain. I went out of my comfort zone to discover that.  

   In addition, I am living with a girl from Indonesia. She is Muslim, but that didn’t make a difference at the time to become friends and even sisters. Furthermore, she made a wide try to build understanding in the community by making presentations about her country. From the youngest students to the oldest ones, everybody had the chance to know better about Indonesia and their traditions. After those presentations, I believe everybody opened their minds a little bit more.

   Talking not only about other countries, but about the variety of Americans that form this country, we should question ourselves how to respect all of them. No judgmental opinions, no discrimination.

   Going back to the past, in 1920, the Nineteenth Amendment became part of the U.S. Constitution, and it prohibited the states and the federal government from denying the right to vote to citizens of the United States on the basis of sex. Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucy Stanton merged as the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA) in 1890 to work for that right.

   In 1955, there was a lady in Alabama going back home after a long day in her exhausting job. The bus she was taking was full of people, so there were not enough places for everybody to sit. Luckily, the lady found a spot where she could sit. In that time, there was a law stating that white people had the right to sit in the bus always, even if it were crowded. The lady, whose name was Rosa Parks, was black, but that was not going to affect her. Later, the bus driver required her to stand up and give her seat to a white girl, but Rosa refused to do that. Parks had arrived before that girl, and she was older, so there should not have been a reason to give her that place, with the exception of the law. Rosa started a movement to get equality between black and white people. Finally, she’s been called by the Congress “the first lady of civil rights” and “the mother of the freedom movement.”

   These people and groups are just a few examples of how United States started to have unity. Today, I think we live in an incredible country that we need to keep consolidating. Conclusively, we should never forget that diversity is the art of thinking independently together, and that is the key to appreciate the best face of America.

   Have you ever felt that you belong everywhere?

   Yes, I have.

Fiza Bhojani, gr. 10, Henrico H.S., Henrico VA

            I can remember walking into the first day of school and everyone assuming that I was a typical Indian. I wanted to be different just like anyone would so I stood there to clarify my identity. I told them that I was Muslim but who would have known that that would ruin it more for me. I never knew why racism was used to hurt others and how the outcome was satisfying to others. Ever since then, I have had an insecurity of fitting in only because my religion was different than others but also criticized more than others. I didn’t know that my personality would be overlooked and my religion would be more prioritized. It’s like I already had a black mark on me without anyone even getting to know me. It was all because of the word “terrorism” which was associated with us Muslims. I tried keeping my mind off of these kinds of racial comments but it was hard when so many children decided to call me a terrorist in the middle of the hallways or questioned why I didn’t wear a hijab. I never meant to hurt anyone but that was my identity to everyone, a terrorist in disguise.

            The concept of ‘one world’ was derived from an American lawyer, Wendell Willkie. He published a book named One World where he was trying to urge America to join an international organization. His book received increased public support for the proposal that the United States should not return to isolationism and should stay active after World War II. There was something different about his book and his thoughts that influenced the thinking of Americans. The world government should mend the wrong doings of humanity as well as cure the global ailments. Unity is needed.

            For years, citizens have dreamed of ‘one world’ where everyone in society and in the international world had a common approach to peace and solving problems whether it deal with white or colored people. As we have heard before, Jawaharlal Nehru was a man of many ideas that were finished before they started. He referred to the concept of ‘one world’ as crucial but it should reach people or else the world would not move forward at all. He predicted that we would not see ‘one world’ in this generation but if we want to reach this millennial stage, we have to think of ways of getting there.

            We, as humans, must express a sense of tolerance when it comes to accepting people of different heritages and beliefs. There would be a lot of harmony and peace if all of us learned to embrace other people’s cultures and religions. The entire ill in the world may be from the clashing of ideologies and sometimes a human’s inability to understand another person’s point of view. All forms of discrimination have the foundation of fear; then, intolerance becomes the loss of that fear. In this struggling society, each one of us feels the need to control others to believe their version of the truth. The society in which we grow up is a key factor of how we address these problems. For example, if someone was born in a small town with very secluded views, a person is likely to be prejudiced. Whereas, if since birth, a child was taught to be social in a diverse environment, the difference of opinions is acceptable. This is the change our world needs.

            The human race has yet to learn many lessons that are offered around them. The most important lesson is to create a ground of understanding and respect for people who are different than us. I can make a difference and so can our neighborhood, our schools, and most important of all, our community. Firstly, we must try to learn something new that can be useful to us but also, that can be spread to promote further knowledge. A spark of inspiration might just be something that can positively contribute to our community. Secondly, if someone is not judgmental, it draws people towards him or her creating a comfortable environment. For that person, it creates a network of lasting friendships that derive from all sorts of backgrounds. Accessing online groups and communities also allows us to taste a sense of diversity that may not be present or acceptable in our community. When we become more understanding, we are positively contributing towards a collective approach to acceptance, understanding, peace, and justice. The world is filled with populations of people with complex layers to their identity and we must learn to accept them all to become one world, one nation.

Ben Loucas, Gr. 10, Atlee H.S., Hanover County VA

Many People…One Nation

            The air is cold and bitter with the taste of salt. The sound of waves lap at the sides of the rocking boat as it creaks and groans through the swirling waters. Clouds and fog obscure everything around like an otherworldly smoke. A boy huddles next to his mother and sister, wrapped in a threadbare blanket, shivering from the cold. His sister clutches a worn-out doll to her chest, his mother holds the family Bible close to her heart. Their breath mingles as faint clouds of vapor in the chilling air. All around are families doing the same, trembling in small groups, casting hopeful glances into the distance. Suddenly, light breaks across the bow of the boat. The clouds slowly part and reveal a glorious, heartwarming sight. A proud, copper-brown woman towers before the boat, robes flowing, sunlight reflecting off her stern, yet peaceful face. Stars seem to glow from the tips of her seven-pronged crown as she stares unwavering into the distant horizon, searching for the weary travelers to guide to her golden shores. A heartfelt cheer erupts from the passengers as they cry out, hug each other and celebrate their triumphant arrival to America, the land of freedom and opportunity.

            That is the sight that would have greeted immigrants as they got their first glimpse of America: a proud, beautiful woman holding aloft a fiery torch to light the path for the foreigners that would become an integral part of our history as a nation. But today there is a much different sight, scowling officials flipping through passports and papers, border guards patrolling walls and fences, and extensive background checks for suspicious persons, all to decide who is worthy to enter our homeland. How did public opinion change since the first wave of immigrants passed through Ellis Island almost 125 years ago? The answer is a sad truth: peace no longer resides in

America, instead there is fear and xenophobia. With so many Americans living in the shadow of terrorism, it is easy to assign blame to ethnic and racial groups which only allows hate to further entrench itself in our nation. What we need to do as Americans is remember our own immigrant past and learn to respect the backgrounds of others regardless of race or ethnicity.

            According to the US Census Bureau, America’s population is comprised of about 77% white, 13% black, 6% Asian, 1% Native American, and 18% Hispanic or Latino. The predominance of Caucasians is due to the first wave of immigration in the 19th and 20th centuries which gave rise to a population boom in America. These new American citizens came from mostly European countries facing war, famine and instability to find peace and opportunity in their new home. Many joined the workforce and helped to bolster the economy and usher in a period of prosperity for the American citizen. Communities were born and enriched their surroundings, creating ethnic havens for their culture to thrive. Although some families faced hardships, most newcomers thrived and became the backbone of America.

            It was the Irish and Chinese immigrants that endured inequality and racism to connect our coasts by rail. It was my Greek ancestors that worked in mines and mills to provide others with coal and steel. It was these cultures that created the future of America. But in the decades that followed came terrorism and conflict. America drifted away from the ethnic roots that it once thrived on and became overly focused on differences. In order to change, we must recognize differences not as a threat, but as a beautiful foundation for a house undivided.

            A principle issue in the struggle for equality is xenophobia, the fear of people from other countries. Many Americans hold grudges against specific nations and their people because of personal beliefs and public opinion. A prevalent example is America’s divide on the Middle East and the Muslim religion. Radical terrorism in the name of Islam has created a bad reputation for people of the Muslim faith, causing problems for Muslim Americans. Because of other people’s fear, they now live under the eyes of a suspicious and wary government despite being American citizens.

            In order to end this suspicion, people need to stop and evaluate individual situations. Being different is not threatening or scary, it is merely a part of life. We should be able to recognize the humanity in our counterparts and treat them as we would treat our own. Communities should unite to bring cultures together by hosting festivals and promoting cooperation between citizens. Where my grandmother lives is a typical steel mill town. Many years ago it attracted a large variety of ethnic groups because of high paying jobs for unskilled labor. She told me about a week-long celebration everyone would participate in at the mill when she was growing up. Each culture was expected to supply either food or a theatrical performance or dance representing their homeland. People were proud to show off traditional costumes, food, songs and dances of their former countries. Everyone learned a little about each other and it helped people see we have more in common than differences. To build trust and understanding among cultures, difference should be set aside so that we can learn from each other. Because we can stop xenophobia by joining together as neighbors, as colleagues, and most importantly, as Americans.

            If we forget our connections to our past that helped to shape our nation and continue to fear each other’s cultures, then the immigrants struggled in vain to forge a new country. Like the weary travelers huddled together for a glimpse of their new home, we need to come together, sharing our cultures, so we can find common ground to build a new America.

Cory Moon, gr. 12, Homeschooled, Powhatan VA

A Base in Understanding

            In a country that is so culturally and religiously diverse, it is frightening to think that we are becoming more divided and reluctant to understand each other. While in some areas we have become more accepting, we see sides of the cultural and religious spectrum growing more distant and less willing to talk to each other. When we consider, this the question we must ask becomes apparent, what can we do about this? We need to start with understanding how we work as people. Then go deeper and examine our cultures and what influences us. Furthermore, we must examine the world of religious beliefs, one of the most powerful driving forces humans can have. In a diverse nation, we need to work to bring everyone together. There is a lot to learn about people’s minds, and the best place to start is with attitudes.

            Attitude is a word that this discussion will revolve around, so let’s clarify what an attitude is considered within psychology. In psychology, an attitude is “the way a person feels about something, a person, place or a situation” (Psychology For Life Today, 190). Psychologists have concluded our attitudes are formed mainly from are experiences. Some experiences we gain in real-life through the people we meet, places we associate and people we hang around. Each experience whether big or small, one time or many times, shape our attitudes. Other experiences our formed through the media we intake. What we watch, the things we read, and what we hear from others, these are called vicarious experiences (Psychology For Life Today, 197). That’s why it is so important to monitor what we intake and do, these experiences can have big effects on us if we aren’t analyzing ourselves. Psychology has helped us learn more about how we work and operate, which is why I think everyone should learn a basic level of psychology. When you learn about psychology you realize that in the end humans are all the same, we just want the same basic needs, regardless of anything differentiating us.

            Many people who have taken psychology courses say that it has helped them be more patient with the world. When they are faced with conflict and problems involving others they know how those people think, and therefore can be more understanding. Understanding is the basis for being kind and appreciating others, and this idea continues when we consider cultures.

It is important we learn about diverse cultures and beliefs, regardless of if we agree with them or not. When we know the history behind something someone does or something they enjoy, it allows us to appreciate and respect them. In some instances, they spark interest and cause us to want to learn more about that culture, which widens our interests and can shape who we are as people. We see this in our lives, even when they aren’t cultural differences. When we understand what shapes someone’s world and what makes them tick, it is easier for us to relate and sympathize with them. When common ground is formed it’s easier to discuss differences; this is important for social creatures such as humans.

            We need to learn cultural history alongside world history, the past is very important but the present is what we interact in and we must understand it. We need to give children and even adults the opportunity to learn about new cultures. A good example of this being successful is World Thinking Day, an activity done through the Girl Scouts program. Every year each troop picks a country and will create a table about it. Each table has a presentation of that country’s culture. They will offer small foods and items from that place to spark interest and understanding in these young girls. The world is a vast place. It is too big for us to not acknowledge other cultures, especially when they are mixed within our own. We must work to bring culture into our schools, into our programs, to spark interest and discussion among the different worlds. When we begin these discussions it is inevitable that religion will come up, since it can play a big part in forming cultures.

            We are slowly turning into a society that is more and more closed minded to the idea of discovering new religions and having discussions about them. The United States is only getting more and more diverse, and understanding is what will unite us together. Public places are banning prayer, thus not exposing us to the valuable experience needed to form attitudes. Religion is not taught in public schools, but it should be. We should have classes that teach the basic beliefs of the main religions we see in the world and give people who are apart of these religions opportunities to enrich their classmates. Most importantly when we have these talks we need to search for the common ground among these groups, no matter how small that shared ground may be. Media is slowly sharing misinformation about these groups, lies and assumptions are becoming truth and giving false representations of these beliefs. We can no longer trust traditional media to give us the truth. While we cannot control what the media puts out, we can control what media we take in, and it is more important now than ever that we do this.

            Our nation can only prosper and get better if we can unite for the same cause. Psychology has helped us develop a basic understanding of what people want, helping us to understand each other and realize we are all the same. Once we realize this we can start to appreciate and respect the diverse cultures and religions we come from, because no matter how these things differ they are all for the same basic reasons. Just as a leader brings his team together with a unifying goal, we need to begin coming together for what we truly are, people trying to make the best of the life we are given.

Works Cited

Dorfman, Barbara, Estela Arambulo, Sherrie Bryce, and Linda Szany, eds. Psychology For Life Today. N.p.: American School, 1993. Print.         

Jhanee Robinson, gr. 10, Open H.S., Richmond VA

Give Peace A Chance

            There’s a little girl in my neighborhood who doesn’t speak. I’ve seen her a few times, but when she stepped on my porch, I knew her world wasn’t the same as mine. The light behind her eyes reappeared when I gave her a caramel-colored teddy bear. Her smile blossomed like a flower on the first day of Spring just because my mom gave her ravioli. When it was time for her to go, that twinkle in her eye turned to tears. Her snaggletooth smile was gone in an instant. She reached for me but I was too far. I knew that something wasn’t right, but I didn’t look away.

            She came from the same place I did: hope.

            When I was younger, life had no limits. The people around me appeared to bring my spirit up. They appeared to guide my way. Once I got older I realized that some of those people weren’t who I thought they were. They only built me up, so it would hurt more when they tore me down. Still, I had hope.

            Without hope, peace can not exist. When I hope for a better day to come there is something to look forward to. When I hope for black lives to matter, there is progress in the movement. When I hope for equality among races and religions, there is peace of mind. When I hope that the pigment of my skin won’t stop me from a higher education, I feel whole. Keeping hope alive brings peace to the mind, body, and soul. The U.S. must become “us” if we want peace. A divided country cannot stand together. I know that peace starts with me, so I keep hope alive.

            I live my life staying hopeful and being true to who I am. Things do not always go the way I want them to and people do not always treat me the way that I treat them. Through all of that, I hope that people will overcome the judgement that they sometimes place upon me because of where I live. My hope drives me to live everyday as peacefully as possible. I find peace in myself first then help others find peace in themselves.

Writer’s Memo

     My strengths of this piece are being able to incorporate a very good story that draws the reader in. The story also helped me to incorporate major points that helped everything tie together. This essay still needs work to tie in major conflicts going on during this time. The easiest part of this essay was dying in a story because it actually happened. The most difficult part finding a way to tie in the “US must become us”. The essay, to me seems very strong and I hope the readers of my essay will find it more inspirational than I did while I was writing. The comments from my peer editors helped me clarify points that could have seemed confusing to my audience. I took a lot of risks personally while writing this. I usually do not express my emotions in this kind of writing. I have learned that I am a strong writer, by writing this.