All of the language and art are represented here as submitted by the entrant.
First Place – Left and Right by Erica Schneider | Voyagers’ Community School | Brick, NJ
Many would say there are two sides to a person. To me, this is true in the way of a past and present self, or more accurately, who you once were and how it’s affected and related to who you’ve become. Time changes so much in a person’s life, especially when it’s concentrated in the urgent period of four years that make up high school. Each person who enters a building as a freshman and emerges a graduate goes through an assortment of life-altering experiences. Whether this includes hardships, falling in love, or discovering a talent and passion that could turn into a lifelong career, the high-school journey is one of self-growth, self-discovery, and revelation.
What I’ve produced represents my transformation from freshman to senior year. On the right side is a distant version of myself, seconds away from entering that high-school door for the first time. When I did walk through, I was weighed down by a heavy striped jacket two sizes too big. My impression of the new environment was obscured by the tangle of chopped hair blanketing most of my eyes. My silent plea was to be left to dwell in my lonely artist’s mind, undisturbed by any interference.
To this day, I will deny that I was ever transgendered. Even back then, prior to wisdom and awareness, I knew that gender identity crises were, more often than not, phases. With that in mind, I still summoned my best efforts to appear as the opposite gender. My hair was styled as any typical boy’s was at the time; my baggy, oversized clothes shielded any questioning eyes from my feminine stature; and, when spoken to, I responded in a voice deeper than what was natural.
Even though it certainly appeared that way, my intention was not to be a boy, but simply to be hidden from any external forces. One thing I learned about people during this period was that when they looked at another and felt unsure about his or her gender, they would rather avoid than approach. For me, this was absolutely perfect! Until it wasn’t.
I really didn’t want isolation, and I wasn’t satisfied with who I was pretending to be, but I also didn’t want to return to the person I was in middle school, either. So I began to experiment, constantly itching to be someone more interesting, more talented, and more confident. I pulled together outfits that resembled a frightening cross between Carrie Bradshaw and Brandon Teena from Boys Don’t Cry. There had to be some better way to express myself, and I finally found it in a most honest and natural way: writing.
Being a writer was something I’d wanted to do since I was eleven years old and devoured my copy of Pretty Little Liars. My choice in reading material has matured tastefully since then, and so has my writing. I explored my personal identity confusion on paper.
Over those next three years, I created the story of Oliver, born (a female) Olive, the mute photographer who does everything in his power to become the person he’s always aspired to be. When I suffered, triumphed, or felt any array of emotion, so did Oliver. This helped me discover who I wanted to be, which was something I realized need not be rushed or predetermined. I made this true for Oliver too, who by the end of the story, found his voice and acceptance from himself and others, as well as something even more elusive… happiness.
On the left side of my portrait, I’m smiling, adorned by a sensible accessory, and not only comfortable but excited to take on the world as a writer and a young woman. I’m college-bound and appreciative of each aspect of my life. I see not good nor bad, but opportunities for joy and growth. I have a boyfriend, an artistic career as a backup and side plan, and an extraordinary future ahead of me. I’m also well aware that although I’ve moved on from my ninth-grade self, it’s still a part of me, and so, the two sides of my portrait are equal in size and detail. They are not defined by labels such as up and down, bad and good, immature and mature, but simply left and right, because it takes all the parts to make a whole person.
Second Place – A Compromise Revolution: The Beauty of Diversity by Saron Zewdie | Francis L. Cardozo Educational Campus | Washington, DC
Link to video here: http://youtu.be/dmX3iwVgXl8
Every vision I express originates from my personal experience. I was born in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. When I was four years old, I was diagnosed with high myopia, an eye condition that causes severe nearsightedness . Although I am a very vibrant person and always smile through hard times, I had a fairly difficult childhood, because my classmates joked about the thick and large glasses I used to wear as a little girl.
I accepted my condition. The glasses are wore were the best glasses for my prescription which started from a negative eight since I first got diagnosed.But others failed to see that my condition was beyond my control. Why couldn’t they accept how I was? I did. So how hard could it be for others to accept me as well?
When I was seven, my parents entered me into a German Church School hoping to find a sponsor for me. Although I’ve had my share of good and bad experiences, there was one thing about me that stood out: For some reason that is unclear to me, I’ve always had a greater, more natural fluency in English than my peers. Because of this, I was always the one called upon to introduce our class whenever people from Germany came to visit us. That was surely a privilege, but the other kids hated me for it, and things went on like that.
As I got older, I began noticing the look in the visitors eyes as well. The looks made me feel like they were looking down upon us, and it was more directed to me because I was the one I was the one standing doing the introduction. It is amazing how much one look can say. Finally, one day, I just couldn’t do it anymore. I remember, I was in seventh grade, three German visitors came inside our class, escorted by our Director. It was Science period, and as usual I was called upon to introduce our class. But this time, I refused. They were standing there looking at me, this time with more of a surprise. That felt much better and so I continued to do so, my teacher did everything to get me up since they couldn’t hear Amharic, our language, she ordered me, she even came around and screamed at me.
For the first time I was not standing, but sitting down for something. But I was young and not sure how to express myself, so no one could understand why I did what I did. Although expressing it would have gotten me in more trouble, I believe that there is a way that we could have come to an understanding and some sort of compromise.
In this same way, I believe that a compromise amongst the diverse races of our world and the desire to live together in peace is at the essence of what true humanity.
Through five millenniums of human history, there have been 620 known and recorded revolutions. Although there is an assumption that one side was victorious, virtually all revolutions have resulted in major loss and devastation on both sides. And, after centuries of understanding ourselves and our inseparable connection with each other and the world around us, I believe that it is about time we achieve a new kind of revolution— A revolution that is created for the favor of all. I sincerely believe that even those who like fight for separation will appreciate the virtue of compromise, once they get used to it.
There is a need for a revolution, but a revolution that neither keeps Rosa Parks sitting while the white man stands, nor one that gets her out of her seat for him. We need a revolution that provides a chair where both people can sit. I know that today, sitting together on a bus is nothing new. But I also know that throughout my stay in U.S., equality and harmony still have not been achieved.
If we looked at how things work in harmony in nature, we’d find it to be the source of eternal growth and peace. Every human invention is not necessarily an original idea, but merely proof of what this wonderful world has already provided us. Therefore, we must preserve it and discover a way for civilization and nature to co-exist. If we fail to do so, not only will we fail to grow, but we will fail ourselves and humanity as a whole.
Shall we ever learn the positive lessons found in compromise, the result will be diversity of thought, diversity of expression and ultimately, diversity of the human race. In this diverse state of being, we are all beautiful.
Third Place – Three Roads Not Taken by Alessandro Pane | Mt. Blue High School | Wilton, ME
NOTE: Audio recording contains some profanity.
I was first introduced to Robert Frost’s The Road Not Taken when I sang the Randall Thompson setting of the poem in my high school chorus two years ago. Over the past few months I’ve found myself thinking back to the poem as I am now a senior in high school, and facing one of the first important crossroads as I look at my post-graduate possibilities.
My piece consists of three episodes: a Dante-esque descent into a rigid music-only education, a gap year in Joyce’s Dublin, and a beat-poet-inspired exploration of a life rejecting expectation. These are roads I do not intend to take, but instead are responses to “And looked down one as far as I could / To where it bent in the undergrowth” as examinations of roads that are ultimately not traveled, yet inform the eventual path. During my examination of these potential roads through the lens of travel literature (The Inferno, Ulysses, and On The Road), the project took many forms, often integrating disparate disciplines to express a single idea. In reflecting on this journey of creation, I have learned that I too must forge my own path: a road inspired by the others not taken.