Story 8 – Essay Winners

Tensions were running high for students and advisor Sara Damon on a November morning, when they would find out the result of a statewide essay contest they entered. The result was beyond what they could have imagined when entering.

Walking into class on what appeared to be a typical morning, a proud group of 12 students were elated to hear that out of the hundreds of applicants, they were placed in the top 20 of a statewide essay contest on The Value of Education, held by BestPrep’s Educational Forum in Minneapolis. Among those 12, was sophomore Nora Steinmetz, who placed first, and of course their teacher who required their entry in the contest, Ms. Damon.

Students in Ms. Damon’s class were given over 3 weeks to prepare and complete their essays. Previously, the students read Spirit Rising, My Life, My Music by Angelique Kidjo. A moving novel that revealed the truth behind the idea that the less-fortunate view their education as a way to escape the obstacles that life has so far thrown their way. They are given more of an intensive to succeed- whereas the wealthy see it as a burden that they need to get past, but not as means of survival.

“Improving our perspective and awareness will cause the entire human race to progress.”
— Mary Norkol

“I tried to express how education is so important but is also taken for granted by a lot of people, usually people who end up struggling in life financially” said sophomore, Joe Sanderson, who was one of the 12 that placed in the top 20, “Education is valued to all to an extent but is often taken more seriously by those who have to work hard to get it, such as students in third-world Africa like in the book.”

Sanderson says that he is grateful to have been required to take it in hindsight. It gave him exposure to storytelling in a judged environment, which is an opportunity not many would optionally go into. His experience should teach everyone a lesson of the benefits of reaching outside of your comfort zone.

“When my teacher told me I thought she was kidding, I was surprised but really happy as well. It was for class so I didn’t really have a choice honestly I probably wouldn’t have done it if I didn’t have to but I’m glad that I did.”

However, senior Mary Norkol can say that she is glad that she did it optionally. Along with being a nice touch to an already outstanding college application, Norkol was inspired by the prompts emphasis on global awareness. Her essay submission focused on the necessity for improvement of worldwide education, an ideal that author Angelique Kidjo is a fierce advocate for.

“My biggest point was global awareness. I mentioned how we have the tendency to ignore things going on in other countries, specifically Africa in this case, because we aren’t directly impacted by it,” said Norkol. “Improving our perspective and awareness will cause the entire human race to progress.”

To Norkol, the fact that it was a competition was an irrelevant factor. When she was asked her reaction to being placed in the top 20, she responded;

“Honestly I had kind of forgotten about the contest part of it until my teacher congratulated me. I can’t say I was expecting it but I wasn’t necessarily surprised either. I wasn’t even excited until my teacher explained how big of a production the reception was.”

And a big production it was indeed. Especially for first place winner, sophomore Nora Steinmetz. The focus of her award winning essay was how education, though it is more difficult to access in some places, holds the same value. That value being better opportunities for those who work harder to achieve a certain goal. Steinmetz was requested to read her work in front of over 800 people that were involved in either the BestPrep organization or the contest itself.

“Reading my essay was mildly terrifying, but not quite as bad as I thought it would be. I think that the buildup was the scariest part, but then once I started actually reading it was easy to block out all the faces and just read,” Steinmetz said.

In the end, these students could not be more grateful for this assignment. It has opened doors for them in the future in regards to college applications, and brought pride to a school of many intelligent future authors.


This story was written by Amira Noor and originally published in The Pony Express, shared here with permission. 

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