Thursday, August 7, 2014

Teen Essay Contest in May 2014

From the Winners of Teen Essay Contest in May 2014

From the First Place Winner: Marisa Li,
Thank you to the SFPL and Jewel for hosting this Teen Essay Contest! The contest motivated me to write about an issue that posed a huge struggle for me this past school year, and I'm glad that sharing my thoughts provided me with such a rewarding experience. I hope my essay will be able to spread the lesson I learned; I want people to always remember that they are unique and wonderful in their own way and not let anyone face such as grades define them. I encourage everyone to participate in next year's essay contest for involvement in a memorable, valuable event.

From the Second Place Winner: Connie Yu,
Thank you to the SFPL for providing me the opportunity to share my thoughts about an interesting topic! It was a pleasure and honor to have participated, and the prompt gave me much to think about. The time I spent meditating on how I've inspired myself and others expanded my awareness on the importance of what I do in my daily life, and I'm grateful for the overall experience that this essay contest has gifted me.

From the Third Place Winner: Tammy Ha,
I felt that this prompt was less like an essay and more like a journal or reflection of my own experience with finding motivation. Writing this essay reminded me of the effort I initially put in and gave me reason to keep exercising when I least felt like it. I really like the Teen Essay Contest because the topics are specific enough for me to focus my essay but broad enough so that many different ideas can fit the prompt. It's always fun to read the other essays and see how people interpreted the topic differently. I don't usually like to write essays, but the Teen Essay Contest is an exception.

Teen Essay Contest in May 2014

Theme: Inspire Myself, Motivate Others
The First Place Winner: Marisa Li
Lowell High School

Growing up in an Asian family, I was raised in a environment where academic success is highly stressed. In a family oriented on the results rather than the process, grades are everything, grades are everything. 4.0 GPA? They expect nothing less. Anything lower, however, amounts to failure. Math used to be the best and favorite subject. Somewhere along the line of high school, though, it was morphed into my worst. Now it was junior year, and my struggles with math continued in Precalculus Honors.
When we received our tests back, I couldn't help but feel inferior compared to everyone else in the class. I'm not intelligent, I thought, and because of that I must work twice as hard for only half the results. I stared at the bright red 61% on my paper and resisted the urge to crumple it. When did learning become a chore? When did school, a place formerly filled with fun and students eagerly absorbing new knowledge, become a place to earn grades and increase family pride?
I envisioned a cycle of success when I was younger based on my grandmother's teachings. High grades would ensure acceptance into a "good" college, meaning a prestigious one recognized by her and all other relatives; this would allow me to obtain a career with a high salary, spacious house, luxury brand car, and various other signs of opulence. Now I believed I was falling into a cycle of failure.
I tried to share with my friends my difficulties with the course. They responded, "It's okay. I know you'll get an A. You're so smart! There is no way you will not be able to raise it." What they failed to understand was that I did not want to hear that reply. Claims of my intelligence meant nothing to me when a C in my math class disproved that assertion. If I was truly smart, would I be receiving a C despite trying and trying? What I wanted to know was if there was more to me. What other qualities did my friends see in me?
What no one realized was the underlying, hidden fear in my heart. Was this all I had become - an AP machine, a factory that churned out good grades every grading period, every semester? Was there anything more to the name Marisa Li than high intellect?
I recall in fifth grade, all the students wrote anonymous compliments about everyone in the class onto slips of paper, which we placed into individual paper bags. When I opened my bag, nearly all of the messages stated something along the lines of "You're super smart." The first time, it made me feel happy, but as I continued to unfold and read the papers, I wished for something different. I desired to be recognized for more than just my grades. And at this time in my junior year, the thought that maybe all I was to my family and friends was someone with good grades returned. It haunted me, the fear that maybe the only reason and the only method for my family to love me was a 4.0 GPA.
What is intellect? What are qualities worthy of admiration? Is someone effortlessly gaining high marks worth more respect than someone striving a thousand times harder but achieving smaller results? And what about the process? School was supposed to be a place for learning because people wanted to learn. When did the results take precedence over the process?
I never understood what I had turned into until talking to my best friend one day. Crying, I relayed how I felt, and she frankly told me that I was more than just grades. She was the first to tell me outright, and I couldn't help but cry. This time, however, my tears were due to happiness.
Sometimes, all it takes is one person to lift you up. Just a few words from her were enough to change my perspective. Doing badly in math did not make me a lesser person. I was still the smiling girl with a fondness for pandas and a love for all types of rice. Maybe my grades were a component of me, but they definitely were not all of me. I would not let one class grade define me. In fact, I realized that I shouldn't let any grade define me. I was my own person with more than just an academic life. I was the food bank volunteer who always aimed to place the nutrition label stickers on the center to make the packages look nicer for people. I was the Chinese girl attempting to correctly pronounce the "r" sound in French. I was so many things more than I first believed, and these facts were present all along. Why was I seeking approval from others when I hadn't even taken  the time to see myself clearly and appreciate who I was? I had to learn to love myself first, and once that occurred, everything fell into place. My new, inspired self brought many things - a brighter outlook on life, a 10% gain in my Precalculus Honors grade to a B-, and most importantly of all, the confidence and self-esteem needed to permanently banish my previous fear.
I remember that day in fifth grade I searched and searched until finally, at the bottom of my paper bag was one compliment much longer than the rest. While the message briefly touched on my intelligence, it focused on how easy it was to talk to me, how I was an excellent listener, how I was kind and caring, and how they enjoyed sharing a love of books with me. It was the paper I cherished most, and years later, when I took out that bag once again, it was the one slip that stood out most in my mind and the one I found first.
One person can make a difference. In fifth grade and now in my junior year, someone reached out and said exactly the words I needed to hear. I wanted to do the same. I wanted to be the voice that encouraged and uplifted someone. I wanted to spread the happiness that was sometimes difficult to find in a stressful, competitive, and achievement-centered environment.
As I seated myself next to my tutee the following day, she voiced her frustration and anxiety about her chemistry class, which she had a C in. I wanted to tell her that grades weren't everything, that she was a wonderful, kind person with or without that 4.0 GPA. That I was happy to tutor her and that she had already raised her grade so much from the beginning of the year. That I was proud of her regardless of her final grade because she worked so hard and never gave up.
So I told her, and her smile as she continued her studies was the brightest I had ever seen.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Teen Essay Contest in May 2014

Theme: Inspire Myself, Motivate Others
The Second Place Winner: Connie Yu
Lowell High School

Mulan never surrendered, so neither would I.
That simple statement provided motivation for my ten-year-old self as she continually attempted to best her older brother in a race to the top of the local park's hill. Admittedly, I didn't beat my brother that day, or even in the most subsequent attempts during subsequent years. However, my persistence  in following the footsteps of my role model, introduced to me in the form of Disney's Mulan by Russell Schroeder, remains with me to this day as I continually challenge myself to attempt even greater feats.
For some people, reading is a chore, an enforced duty requiring teachers and deadlines. But as demonstrated above, I see books as an integral part of my identity. They are the inspiration that stimulates my confidence and guides my decision throughout the twists and turns of life. On one level, books allow me to accept missions as an M16 operative, ride a Nimbus 2000 as a Seeker for the Golden Snitch, and beseech the Oracle of Delphi for guidance in seemingly impossible tasks. Beyond that incredible effects lies yet another surprise: the immense power to instruct and inspire. Thwarting criminals with Alex Rider showed me the importance of confidence, as most of his accomplishments would have been close to impossible had he lacked faith in his capabilities. Soaring through the air with Harry Potter demonstrated the strength of friendship, for his battle against Voldemort required his friends' help along each step of the way. Traveling to Delphi with various Greek heroes illustrated that even the best occasionally need to swallow their pride and ask for aid.
In this way, books were the foundation of my childhood, and the library that housed them was my go-to getaway. Books' settings were the places that I accessed whenever I sought advice or even a temporary escape route from the world around me. My adventurous half thrived in the creativity that captivated my thoughts and engaged my mind in an electrifying mixture of characters and plots. I found wellsprings of inspiration wherever I looked, whether the book were about the Magic School Bus or Katniss Everdeen. Strong characters, particularly heroines like Mulan and Katniss, never failed to strengthen my resolve whenever I was in need of courage; my struggles seemed trifling and manageable in the face of those individuals' hardships. As I traced the footsteps of countless protagonists, I even uncovered lessons about success and failure applicable to my own life. Greek myths exposed me to the dangers of pride, Shakespeare's plays warned me about unintended outcomes, and shaped by examples such as these, I have become more conscious individual, making careful decisions after thoroughly weighing the consequences.
Tales have always been my tools for motivating myself; after all, if Hercules could refuse to despair upon hearing about his twelve upcoming labors, I too could certainly refuse to despair upon hearing about my twelve upcoming tests. In a similar way, I use my own story to inspire the people around me, in both academics and athletics. As a a former student of the elementary school where I tutor, I completely understand the complaints of my tutees about the rigors of their science assignments and confusion regarding rounding rules, and this understanding is one that I strategically exploit. It is this understanding that provides me with the ability empathize with my students as I remember my own personal plight, my own personal story. With this insight I am able to pinpoint sources of their distress and suggest possible solutions for working around them. Personal experiences in mind, I persuade Eric to bear with my endless multiplication drills and show Reyna that multiplying fractions is far easier than her exaggerated grumbles may suggest, and my efforts are frequently rewarded with the brilliant beam of a pleased fifth grader displaying a satisfying test score.
A similar method is applicable even for my athletic life. Track and field and I began our relationship as mere strangers, for not only was I behind other sophomores who had joined as freshman the previous year, but I was also the only one to lack middle school athletic experience. However, I channeled my inner Mulan yet again, resolving to continue my commitment and suppressing the siren's call of quitting even when the full-body soreness became routine and shin splints afflicted every step. After seasons of the relationship, I have learned to love the euphoria of physical achievement as the hours I devote become fractions of seconds shaved off personal records. By the end of my first season, I had chipped eight seconds off my 400 meter time alone, and while I visited the podium four times during city championships, the medals meant more than just the physical accomplishment during races; they represented my mental will throughout the season to excel and reach ever greater levels of proficiency.
This is my story that I share with incoming runners, the story with the ability to inspire their self-confidence and fervent efforts toward continual improvement. After all, if I could overcome the odds stacked against me and have my efforts be repaid in dividends, surely they could achieve their goals as well- provided that they continually dedicate hours to daily practice, of course. Stretching tips for injury prevention, encouragements when runners feel absolutely exhausted- I offer all my services to anyone who asks. Yet even so, I find that sharing my personal experiences is the most effective way to provide others with a surge of self-confidence and encouragement to complete the next workout, race, and challenge.
To any who downplay the significance of books or ridicule them for being just trivial outlets during leisure, I point to the profound effects that books have played in my life. My personality would certainly be different had I not met Mulan; her bravery is a source of inspiration throughout many of my endeavors in life thus far. In addition, egotistic as this may sound, I feel inclined to believe that Eric will be thankful for my drills in basic multiplication as he continues onto middle school mathematics- just like I was grateful for my mother's ceaseless firing of multiplication problems. I firmly believe in stories' ability to inspire me and motivate others. Even as I type this essay, I hope to share my experiences and thereby continue inspiring others, one story at a time.