The 2006-2007 Essay Contest Winners:
1st and 2nd Place

High School Division

First Place (tie)

Caileigh Felker
Grade 9
Central High School of Philadelphia
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

My parents always blamed themselves. My Dad said it was because he never made me join the Little League team, and my Mom said it was because she made me wear Princess underwear when she picked up the wrong ones at the store. They could never say the word, those three letters must have terrified them, they would just say, "the thing I've become," like I was something too horrifying to look at. I suppose you could say everything worked out, but I had to go through a lot of hardship first.

I knew I was...different, since I was little. I never really knew what made me different, but little things would set me apart from everyone else, like the fact that I wanted to dress up as a ladybug for Halloween instead of a Power Ranger like all my friends. That year, as you might have been able to figure out already, my parents didn't just let me dress up like a ladybug, absolutely not, they told me I was "too old" to trick-or-treat and made me hand out candy. Obviously, I kind of figured out there was another reason because my sister was three years older than me and happily went trick-or-treating that night. I'm not really sure what other signs my parents saw, but I know they were paranoid about making sure it stayed a secret. Any little thing that made me different, even if it didn't point in any direction about the fact that I'm, you know, they made sure to tell everyone it was, "just a phase." People probably would have looked at me less if my parents didn't make such a fuss about everything that made me "queer." Many nights I could hear them talking about what they could do to stop what was inevitably coming and comforting each other by saying, "they still had time to change me." Over the years that's what they mercilessly tried to do.

By the time I was a teenager, I knew that I was definitely not a regular guy. All my friends had beautiful girlfriends, and my parents tried all the time to send me on "outings" with their friend's daughters. Each time I would come home from an "outing" my parents would wait outside in anticipation, hoping this girl had changed me. But, what they would see when I came home was a guy who had just made yet another friend. They would pester me with questions, trying to pull each detail out of me, and when I could take it no longer, they would preach to me about all the wonderful traits that girl possessed. I figured I would never have someone whom I really cared about, and then I met Adam.

Adam was amazing. He was kind, gentle, sweet, funny, almost everything you could wish for in a partner and friend. At first I wasn't sure what was happening to me, but whenever I saw him my heart began to beat extremely fast and I felt like I was floating on air. The first time I tried to talk to him, I had to look away because his eyes were the most incredible things in the world. We began to date, but I could tell it hurt my parents more than anything in the world. Their tactic was to pretend that it didn't exist, and when their friends asked, my parents brushed it off as nothing. Adam and I were happy, but my parents were getting angrier and angrier. Soon their denial disappeared and they decided instead to make our lives a living hell. My parents never outright told me that I was to stop being who I was. They still had hope that I would change on my own and they were praying that they would be able to keep it a secret until then. But, as I got older, they saw that they were losing their window to change me. When they decided to hurt Adam and I, they were relentless. If we came home too late, they would lock me out, if people saw us in public, my parents would say Adam was a special needs kid who I had agreed to help. They did whatever they could to hurt me and it worked. Soon after Adam left me. Everything seemed to be crashing down around me. My friends stopped talking to me because they were scared, my parents wouldn't even look at me, it seemed like the whole neighborhood was against me. I never imagined that just because I liked men instead of women my family would pretend I didn't exist and my friends would stop talking to me.

It's been years since I last saw Adam, and years since I last talked to my parents. From the day I was born they made me feel bad for who I was, and now that I am out of their depressing, rigid, horrible household, I can proudly be who I am. I was always afraid to say it, but now I can say it with pride. I am gay.

First Place (tie)

Lauren Stander
Grade 9
Central High School of Philadelphia
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

I thought that Mark was serious when he said he was gay. All the girls would go out shopping with him and say he was their "gay best friend". He even wore a rainbow bracelet to school one day.

I, on the other hand, could not just go and wear a rainbow bracelet to school or put on a bright pink shirt and go out of the house with pride. I was ashamed to be gay. Sure, I came out to my parents. They were very, how do you say it? They were very loose with their views. They just said it was "an expression of the person inside me, and that cannot be changed." They told me "Brad, you are perfect just how you are". But I hadn't yet told any of my friends. I was so used to hearing the words "fag" and "homo" around school used by the guys jokingly, and I was scared of admitting I was a "fag" and hearing them whisper behind my back.

But then it ended up Mark was kidding. He apparently had a bet going with his friend Leon about how many days he can pretend he was gay. And it also so happens that I had fallen for him. Maybe it was the way he laughed, how he tipped his head back and just a little bit of his bright teeth would show. Or maybe it was the way he ran when he hit the ball in all of the baseball games he played. In my mind, it was love.

When I told Mark that I liked him, he thought I was making a joke. He thought I was "in" on his and Leon's bet. I, however, was completely baring my soul, not knowing that he would just laugh in my face.

"Dude", he said, "back off!" I blinked a few times, trying to get some words to come out, but I couldn't. So I just turned around and hurriedly walked home.

The next day I came into school, I could tell the rumor mill had started. Boys would walk down the halls a little farther from me, and girls would stand in their little groups and giggle when they looked in my direction. When I opened my locker, a bunch of confetti, meant for a baby shower saying "it's a girl!" streamed out. The guys that usually sat at my table for lunch were nowhere to be found. After the long, excruciating day, I walked home alone. As I was rounding the corner two blocks away from my house, two guys appeared. I recognized one from the football team and the other one from the halls around school. They were both known for tripping freshmen and sticking post-it notes they wrote on the back of teachers. Immature, I know. But the thing was, they were both about three times my size. They walked up to me, almost engulfing me with their height. The one from the football team pushed my shoulder and I stumbled back a little.

"So, are you gonna push me back?", he snickered. "I hear you like our friend Mark, how cute. Well he wanted us to tell you this:" He punched me in the stomach. His other friend kicked my shins which knocked me to the ground. The whole time they were laughing, like all of a sudden I would miraculously get up smiling and we'd go and play video games together. Finally, with one last kick to my stomach, they ran off when a car came down the road. And after that, I couldn't remember anything.

I woke up in my room to a bright light coming in from the windows. I sat and thought about what had happened for a long time. I felt disgusting, I felt like I was weird and that I deserved to be beaten. Why else would they have done it to me? Boys aren't supposed to like boys.

When I tried to move, I felt a sharp pain in my abdomen. A get well card was sitting on my desk. When I opened it, I saw it was from someone named Hannah. I think I'd heard her name around school, she was very shy. In the card it read:

Dear Brad,

I heard about what happened Tuesday night. I am ashamed that anyone in this world could be filled with such hate. I just want you to know that if no one else will accept you for who you are, I will. I think that you should be able to love whoever you want, whether it be a boy or girl, and not be hated for it. I hope you can come in to school soon!

I smiled. My mother came in to the room, relieved that I was all right. She told me the boys were caught after someone drove by and called the police. Though I was scared about the time when I was ready to go back into school, I thought of all the people that cared about me, about my parents, and about Hannah. I realized that I needed to love myself for who I was, and that if people hated me for a thing like my sexual orientation, they weren't worth my time anyway.

Second Place

Maci Wallace
Grade 11
Oshkosh North High School
Oshkosh, Wisconsin

Losing It All

Sitting in the deafening silence of my room is becoming habit. Who would have thought the death of one of your parents could change your life so drastically? Just three months ago, I was happy at school with my friends and I did not think anything in the world could change who I was and who my friends were.

The death of my father came so sudden. He was on his way home from a business trip and was hit by a drunk driver on the rural highway just fifteen miles from our newly built house. Building the house was my dad's big project. He spent years deciding on the floor plans; that house meant so much to him. He said it was one of his biggest accomplishments. After his death, my mom and I both knew that we would not be able to keep living in the house. My father was the only income, because my mother was a stay at home mom.

Making the move from our luxurious house to the mediocre apartment was difficult. I was use to living somewhat lavishly, but living off my father's life insurance had to be done cautiously. Living in a different home I knew would be different but I thought school would not change at all. I slowly started to see a change in my friends.

My friends and I were considered the popular girls. Growing up it had always been that way. We all had a decent amount of money, lived in nice houses and our parents drove respectable cars. We never really wandered outside of our clique; we just stayed with the people like us. Associating with people "lower" than us was not something we normally did. I never really thought about it being a bad thing; it was the way I grew up.

After returning to school things started out the same. My friends were there to comfort me and made sure I was doing all right with everything. As the weeks went on, my friends did not want to come to our apartment. We usually took turns hosting movie nights at each of our houses but when it was supposed to be at my house, another one of my friends would volunteer to have it. I thought nothing of it at first until I noticed somewhat of a pattern.

"Hey guys, if you want, my mom can give you a ride home instead of walking." "Uh, well, uh, no that's fine, we can just walk, and it's not that far."

The fact that my friends did not want a ride was odd to me. Another thing that was odd was the way they looked at our car. We traded in our Trailblazer for a smaller Dodge Neon that my mom said was economically more efficient. Were my friends embarrassed to be seen in our car?

My mother was having a hard time finding a job and my grandmother was in the hospital. Most of our money was being spent on care for my grandmother, so I did not have a lot of spending money for new clothes or going to the movies. When we would go to the mall, I would just browse and use the time to hang with my friends but they did not really like the idea of me just browsing.

"Summer! If you are not going to buy anything at least hold one of my bags so it actually looks like you bought something."

"Yeah, Summer, we don't want to look like we can't afford anything here."

Remarks like that started coming more steady. I felt self-conscious of who I was and I constantly worried that my friends were embarrassed by me. I thought I was the same person I always used to be. My personality did not change at all; the only things that changed were my material possessions. When my friends started hanging out without me and they stopped inviting me to their weekend activities, I started to realize what the problem was all along.

My group of friends and I were so superficial. My friends only liked me because I was the same as them. I had money, and to them, and even me, money was popularity. As soon as I lost that, I became nothing to them. I became a person "less" than them.

Trying to make new friends was not easy. All of the girls in my grade were uneasy about making friends with me. I never acknowledged them in the past and most people thought I only wanted to be friends with them because my old friends ditched me. The problem was that was the reason I was trying to make new friends. I needed people my age to talk to and socialize with. The person I was before, ruined the chances of making new friends.

I talk in school now to a few girls. We do not hang out outside of school but I am hoping that gradually we will become better friends and I can prove that I am a different person. It is amazing how an event, like the death of a parent, can make you realize who you truly are. My experiences with my old friends are ones I will remember for a lifetime and the lesson I learned from those friendships will leave a lasting impact on my life forever.

Read the High School Honorable Mention Essays

Middle School Division

First Place

Eliana Cohen
Grade 6
Scotts Ridge Middle School
Ridgefield, Connecticut

Little Learners: A TV Show to Stop Prejudice

This world is far from perfect: there is violence, poverty, cruelness, and much pain. With that being said, though, we must strive to make this world a better place to live in. We as human beings must be kind to our fellows whether they are young or old, rich or poor, boy or girl, Hispanic or Asian, Black or White. We must not judge them unfairly. Some people believe that others of a different ethnic group are bad, stupid, and evil even though they know nothing about them and have not met them. Sadly, these people think they have the right to make fun of, be mean to, and even kill that group of people. This pure hate for a certain group of people is called prejudice.

Prejudice is very bad, but nobody is born with it. Everybody must learn it from their surroundings: their parents, the media, or any place they go. That is why I think it is very important to teach kids at a young age to respect each other's differences and be kind to one another even if you don't share the same ideas or beliefs as someone else. I think the best way to learn about someone else's culture is to actually be a part of that group of people's culture; learn their language, cook their food, and even take part in some of their ceremonies. That might seem like a very unrealistic way to stop prejudice but actually it is not. We have much technology in our lives such as TV and it would be quite easy to make a show that stops prejudice. This TV show should be geared to younger kids so they will understand at a very young age that no group of people is bad and everyone has their own ideas and beliefs. I think the name of this TV show should be called Little Learners.

The characters in Little Learners would consist of different kids from around the world all of which would have a different background and a different ethnicity. They would come from different places around the world and have different cultures. In each episode, they would travel to a certain kid's country and learn about that kid's culture. They would learn a little bit of the language, learn about the holidays, and even learn about what their day-to-day life is like. For example, there might be a kid named Christina from Sweden she would talk about the holiday of St. Lucia, which is a holiday that takes place in December. She might also say that for this holiday they eat special buns called Lussekatts. She would explain that they wear special clothes and sing songs. Not only would Christina talk about the holidays, but she would also talk about what her recreational activities are like. What the climate is like in Sweden. Is it cold or warm? She might even say what types of animals live there.

I think this will stop or at least reduce the amount of prejudice because people will then learn about each other's cultures. I think by doing this people will get a better understanding of what other people's ideas and beliefs are, so they will not quickly jump to irrational conclusions of others. Who knows? Maybe if you open up to others' cultures you might find that you have a lot in common! This is how people will become accepting of one another and then we will be able to live in a better, happier world.

Second Place (tie)

Grade 8
Saxe Middle School
New Canaan, Connecticut

Once upon a time there was a lovely princess named Margeaux. When Margeaux was born, her parents thought that she was the most beautiful baby in the world. They decorated her room with diamonds and pink ribbons. She lived her childhood playing with dolls and wearing fancy dresses. She was a happy little girl for a long time, but as she grew up, she started to notice herself changing. She no longer wished to play in her dollhouses, and would often sit at a window-seat in her room for hours, watching the servant boys play games and run around in the mud. She longed for the day that she would be able to play with them.

One day, Margeaux was getting fitted for a ball gown for her tenth birthday.

"Mother," she asked the queen, "Why must I wear these dresses? Why can't I wear pants and play outside and get dirty?" Her mother gasped.

"Because darling, you are a girl! What's more you are a princess! Girls don't play games and such like boys. Girls sit inside like well-behaved young women and sew and read and focus on their learning."

Margeaux stared down at the dress she was wearing with confusion. Just because she was a girl meant she had to live a boring life? She secretly wished more than anything that she could be more like a boy. But, Margeaux also knew that she had to mind her mother, so she sighed and let the dress fitting continue.

For three years she silently obeyed the queen's words. She stayed inside and went on with her lessons, and eventually learned to sew. Finally, when she was thirteen, Margeaux decided she was sick of her lifestyle. Who was her mother to tell her what she couldn't do just because of her gender? So, with that thought in mind, she snuck into her father's closet and took his silk britches along with an old hat and jacket. She put on the britches and jacket and stuffed her long hair into the cap. She snuck out into the east courtyard and found the young servant boys starting a game of stickball. She asked them if she could play and they allowed her. As they began to play, Margeaux really got into the game. She was having so much fun running around and hitting the ball that she didn't notice her hat fall off, causing her long blonde hair to cascade down. A chamber maid doing the washing nearby saw this and recognized her.

"Margeaux?!" she exclaimed running towards the girl covered in mud.

The maid grabbed her collar and dragged her into the throne room, where she now faced her mother and father. The maid explained how she had found the princess playing outside with the servant boys.

"Is this true, Margeaux?" Her mother asked inquisitively "Yes."

"And what on Earth would compel you to do this, young lady?"

"Frankly, Mother, I don't see the issue. I may be a girl, but so what? Does that mean I don't get to have any fun? I think that it is unfair to generalize and say that all girls must be prim and proper and can't play games and get dirty. What makes me truly different from a boy other than my physical appearance?"

The queen was shocked, but enlightened. She realized that all this time she had been treating her only daughter unfairly. Never once had the queen asked her daughter what she wanted; she had just assumed that all girls were the same

From then on, the queen allowed her daughter to play with the boys, and even had a pair of royal britches made for her. And all throughout the kingdom, girls of all ages were finally free to go against the preconceived notions, and just act as they pleased. And they lived happily ever after.

Second Place (tie)

Nicole Purcell
Grade 7
Vernon Center Middle School
Vernon, Connecticut

Clueless Kevin

Miss Johnson was a brand new teacher at Elm Street Middle School and was very nervous, so before school started, she looked at her future students' permanent records on the computer. She had two more records to go when the computer had a glitch. Samuel Winters' clean slate record got messed up with Kevin Walker's record, filled with notices, conference papers, and detention slips. Miss Johnson didn't realize that the records had become switched.

On the first day of school Miss Johnson put the kids she thought would misbehave, according to the information she learned from their records, in the back of the classroom so they wouldn't distract the kids who wanted to learn. "Straight-A Sam", which everyone called him, was assigned to the back. He reluctantly walked to the back, dodging spitballs and jumping over legs that were trying to trip him. Sam tried as hard as he could to pay attention, but it was hard to hear Miss Johnson over the snoring kid on one side of him, and the kid on the other side talking on his cell phone.

Kevin was upset to have to sit in the front of the classroom, away form his friends and the excitement. Miss Johnson had him up with all the "goody-two-shoes", to be a good example to the rest of the class. She treated him like he was a "goody-two-shoes", but to everyone else, he was "Clueless Kevin". The worst part about it was he had to sit right under the teacher's nose, which didn't give him a chance to goof off.

Two weeks later, the class took a quiz. When they got it back, Sam was shocked to see he got a 67. He had never gotten a grade below 90 before this year. His parents were going to kill him, since this was his third bad grade. He wasn't used to their disapproval. Speaking of disapproval, Miss Johnson was always giving him disappointed looks in class.

When Kevin got his quiz back, he was surprised to see a 90. He never did this good before. Having to pay attention in class was helping him a lot. Lately he had been getting good grades in this class. His parents, who had previously lost hope in him, now started to hope again.

Sam got a detention one day for talking in class, when in fact it was the kids next to him. This wouldn't be the last time that this would happen.

Kevin, on the other hand, was selected to be a peer tutor by Miss Johnson. This was an honor he had never dreamed of. Later when he told his parents, they were so proud. It felt good to be recognized for something worthwhile. He was determined to not let them down.

It was so distracting sitting in the back, Sam couldn't concentrate. He knew his parents and the teacher were disappointed in him. All of his efforts were getting him nowhere. After a while, he began to give up.

But as Sam's grades were going down, Kevin's grades were going up. Kevin continued to stay out of trouble and receive high grades, after all he was given privileges that he had never had before. His teacher and other students praised him and his parents were so pleased with him.

Miss Johnson requested a conference with Sam's parents. They told her how Sam always had done well in school and was respectful. They were alarmed to see his grades dropping and all the detentions he was getting. Miss Johnson was confused, that wasn't what she had read in his file. When she went to go look it up and show it to them, Sam's correct record came up this time and Miss Johnson, realized her mistake.

It was wrong for Miss Johnson to prejudge her students without meeting them. By doing this she made Sam do poorly. Also, everyone had prejudged Kevin too. They all thought Kevin was clueless, but they were wrong. So the lesson here is when you prejudge, you don't always know all the facts, and prejudging can lead to problems.

Read the Middle School Honorable Mention Essays