Seven Brilliant Student Essays on Your Wildest Dreams for 2020

Read winning essays from our spring 2020 student writing contest.

For the spring 2020 student writing contest, we invited students to read the YES! article “Alicia Garza: How to Prepare for 2020” by Kate Werning. Alicia Garza, co-founder of #BlackLivesMatter offered this advice, “Clarity inside of chaos can help us find direction when it seems like everything around us is unstable.” Lots of things may keep students up at night or make them anxious. Students wrote about what they might accomplish in their wildest dreams for themselves or for this nation—and the steps they would take to make this vision a reality.


From the hundreds of essays written, these seven were chosen as winners. Be sure to read the author’s response to the essay winners and literary gems that caught our eye.

You can hear four students read their winning essays on the Irresistible podcast. Be prepared to be inspired! Thank you to author and Irresistible’s founding director Kate Werning for sharing these powerful stories.

Middle School Winner: Theo Cooksey

High School Winner: Kira Walter

University Winner: Athina Amanor

Powerful Voice Winner: Sary Barrios

Powerful Voice Winner: Avery Chase

Powerful Voice Winner: Daniel Cook

“Can I Dream?” Winner: Maitreya Motel

From the author Kate Werning: Response to Essay Winners

Literary Gems

Middle School Winner

Theo Cooksey

Brier Middle School, Brier, Wash.

Looking Back to Move Forward

I’ve never really looked at long-term goals for myself, as Alicia Garza suggests in the YES! article “How to Prepare for 2020” by Kate Werning. Other than my goal of reaching Eagle Scout before I turn 18, I tend to live day to day. I’m 13, so shouldn’t I just, well, be a kid? Isn’t goal planning and future planning something adults do? To be honest, when I read the article and learned what the topic was, I locked up like a clam. Sharing dreams of how I could positively change the world makes me uncomfortable. Why would I open myself up to that level of critique, especially in middle school? Although I would love to see advancements to reduce the effects of climate change and uneven wealth distribution, I can’t visualize myself impacting these issues right now.

This led me to wonder why I stopped thinking about my ability to influence the future in a way where anything is possible. What made me narrow my scope and start looking down, rather than seeing my potential? I believed I couldn’t possibly change the world if I could hardly impact myself. If you’re always working hard at fitting into a world by other’s standards, how do you have time to dream of your possibilities? This made me ask, “When did I allow this box to contain me?” When I realized I wasn’t accepted as myself.

When I was young, I possessed an immense personality that couldn’t be contained. I was a giant, perpetual motor hurling questions, wanting answers, always moving. However, over years of school, my personality withered, and my motor followed suit. Going from a storm to no more than a summer breeze, my motor was barely able to push paper. Why did that happen? I quieted my voice, so I wouldn’t be told I was too loud. I suppressed my motor, so I wouldn’t be told to stop moving. I spoke less so I wouldn’t constantly be told to stop talking and stop interrupting. 

After spending so much energy shrinking my personality, I hardly had time to look up and think about what I wanted to do. How do I get back to looking up and out into the world? I believe that this assignment has given me the chance to start doing just that. As I uncoil the past, undo the steps and remember the moments that quieted and contained me, stole my voice, and seized my motor, I am determined to recreate what I lost. I will slowly rebuild my motor into an impervious hurricane that will break out of the box that limited me. My opinion will not be hidden from others.

As I lift my head up, I will start with the small things and my familiar spaces. For me, these are working on what affects me directly, like school and what I enjoy outside of school. I will build the forge in our backyard with my dad to pursue blacksmithing together. I will continue to hone my skills in archery. I will dust off my trumpet and give myself the chance to hit the high notes. I will earn Life Scout rank to put me one step closer to Eagle Scout. By keeping my head up and moving forward with a plan, I no longer need to be the kid who internalized everything.

Becoming a better me now, at 13, will make me a better person who may just be able to influence climate change and build a more equitable wealth distribution system when I get older.

Theo Cooksey, an eighth grader from Lynnwood, Washington, is an avid reader and video game player. Theo plays the euphonium and trumpet, and is an expert in Star Wars movies and music. During the COVID-19 quarantine, he is learning to bake and is building a forge.

High School Winner

Kira Walter

Mamaroneck High School, Mamaroneck, N.Y.

Turning Flowers to Trees

 Maybe we used to be trees. Rainforests of friendly monsters, scraping the sky, communicating, and reaching the sun. Maybe roots used to run where we couldn’t see them, connecting us to each other and spreading through the world like telephone lines across our continent. But somehow, though the earth stayed warm and the rain fell on our soil, we evolved from trees into flowers. Flowers alone in our own empty fields, roots too short to reach anything. 

At a high school with over 1,000 students, I notice how we pass each other on the street, in the hallway, lucky if our eyes meet for a moment, if our hearts touch for a second. We are isolated. Although I hope for a world where none go hungry, where violence is absent, where rivers breathe with cold clean life, and wild creatures run through lush green forests, I first hope for a world where we can connect. A world where America’s youth doesn’t have to contemplate whether it is better to live in the light or commit suicide in the darkness. 

My wildest dream for this nation is that people will reach out to those suffering, to America’s youth whose second leading cause of death is suicide. It was not too long ago that a friend approached me about trying to take her own life; she locked herself in a bathroom filled with poisonous gas, waiting for her breath to go soft and blow out like a candle in the wind. We had always been distant, but she chose to share her secret with me because she had no one else to share it with.  

According to the Jason Foundation, 3,069 high schoolers in the U.S. attempt suicide every day. Among this group, four out of five leave clear signs of depression. So why do so many signs, such as drug use, sleep shortages or extreme mood swings, go unnoticed? The answer is isolation. People are so separate from each other that the chances of being discovered are nearly impossible. Although many try to ascribe teen suicide to the pressures of excelling both academically and socially, overcoming these obstacles can be easier than they seem. Easier as long as students have someone to support them through struggles. 

Many teenagers who take their lives are members of healthy families and are surrounded by friends, but they feel as if they can’t share their troubles with them. They fear that this would be a burden on those they care about and so they remain silent. Teens let dangerous secrets collect like water droplets in a jar. One day, this jar reaches its capacity, problems overcome them, and alone, they surrender. In Kate Werning’s YES! article “How to Prepare for 2020,” Alicia Garza explains that “clarity inside of chaos can help us find direction when it seems like everything around us is unstable.” I dream our community will teach suffering teens to find that clarity – that we will help them blossom on a path to success. 

In modern-day society, too many people shame others for attempting suicide. They identify them as troubled and accuse them of being too weak to deal with life’s challenges. To combat suicide, I’ll make sure to do the opposite. I’ll reach out, check in with, and cheer up my peers. I’ll try to comfort those in need of comfort. Because in an ever-changing world of frightening dangers and darkness, we need to be trees with roots linked together in harmonious peace. We need to support each other into a new decade, out of the shadows and towards the sun.

Kira Walter is a sophomore at Mamaroneck High School in New York. Kira writes for the school newspaper and plays on the varsity tennis team. She has enjoyed studying classical piano since she was five years old and volunteers for the American Legion in her free time. When she grows up, Kira aspires to continue her passion for writing.

University Winner

Athina Amanor

Spring Hill College, Mobile, Ala.

Woman with No Nation

“You sound like a white girl.” “You’re an American baby now.” “Wow, you actually speak very good English.” “Did you live in a tree?” 

As a Ghanaian immigrant living in the United States, I’ve heard it all. Statements from my own family members living back home and from friends I’ve made in this foreign land serve as reminders that there really isn’t a place for me. I’m too American to be African, yet I am too African to be American. Even college professors have laughed while a fellow student mocked a group of African languages by clicking his tongue at me and asking,  “What did I just say in your language?” disregarding my offense and reinforcing ignorance. Many of my anxieties and doubts about self-worth stem from these types of interactions. I have adapted, self-monitoring to the highest degree, in order to be more palatable and to fit in. 

As an outwardly appearing “African American,” I fight negative stereotypes when interacting with white people, striving for excellence in both academics and athletics and hoping to outrun stereotypes and shatter prejudices. Within the African American community, I appear as a poser. I walk, talk, and think too differently to be welcomed there either. For my relatives, I speak too “American,” too fast, and I stress all the wrong syllables. I’ve carefully created so many personalities, slipping out of one skin and into the next to appease others, that I hardly recognize my true self. So, when I hear words like,” go back to your country,” a tidal wave of confusion hits me. Sometimes I wish I could, but I know the same alienation I feel here would be waiting for me in Ghana because I would still be seen as an outsider. I am a woman with no nation. I worry about being viewed as second class, about not being awarded the same rights and freedoms, about losing my culture, and about losing irreplaceable familial relationships. 

So, what in my wildest dreams do I wish for this nation? I wish for acceptance. I wish for understanding. I wish for kindness and an egalitarian mindset for all. I wish for the extinction of xenophobia and the predominance of support. I wish for a community in which I do not feel the need to prove I am not a threat, where my culture is not a trend, and above all else, where being me is enough. My wishes may seem far-fetched and on par with beauty queens claiming to want nothing more than world peace, but I am aware that I must make efforts on my own behalf and not simply put wishes out into the world.

In this new decade, I continue to fight for my dream by working with refugees and  building bridges between them and other volunteers as both groups work together to create a safe space filled with the same friendship and sense of belonging that I’ve craved for myself. I continue to make strides towards my dream by rejoicing in differences and staying open to immersing myself in new experiences without judgment. I continue to make leaps in my effort to make my dream a reality by engaging in intercultural, interreligious, and interracial dialogues, fanning the flames of mutual understanding.

And, as I look at the next ten years, I plan to make bounds towards realizing my dream by doing something we all struggle to do in life:  to discover who I am outside of the carefully curated personalities I put on and give that person all the support and acceptance I so willingly give to others yet constantly deny myself. This new decade demands that I stop viewing my self-ascribed status as a woman with no nation as weakness, and make way for the potential it holds. 

Athina Amanor is a Ghanaian immigrant who recently completed her undergraduate coursework in cellular and molecular biology. As a recently retired student-athlete, Athina enjoys staying active by taking long walks, going for short runs, and playing tennis with her older brothers. She hopes that her concern for the human condition and openness to helping others serve her well as she pursues a career in pediatric cardiology.

Powerful Voice Winner

Sary Barrios

Mamaroneck High School, Mamaroneck, N.Y.

A Borderless World

As I walk into the kitchen, I see both of my grandmas stirring the masa and my mom putting the tamales de carne on the stove and cutting different fruits to boil in the pot for caliente. It’s Noche Buena and my dad, my siblings, and I are hanging ornaments and lights. At the bottom of the tree, we arrange the Three Wise Men and the animals on one side, Mary and Joseph on the opposite side of each other, and place Jesus in his manger at the center of them all. Lastly, we put the star on top of the tree, and turn on the beautiful lights. At 8 p.m., we gather around the table to eat. We pray to God for all the good things he has brought to us in the past year. Then, we pass the tamales de carne around, talk about our family in Guatemala and how they’d decorate their tree with clementines and light fireworks at Christmas, and laugh at my brother’s jokes. Everyone is together in one place, one day, one moment. But that’s all a dream.

Instead, it’s only my parents and me at the table. Some people are able to see their family every single day or at least once a week, but my parents are forbidden to see their relatives. They went through a lot to get here, and they’ve never gone back to Guatemala. While they are grateful for the opportunities here, the borders they crossed are like a cage, keeping them from seeing their loved ones. So when I dream of a better future, I dream of a world without borders.

These boundaries keep our families apart. A few months before I was born, my dad received a call: my grandpa had passed. My dad had a hard time dealing with not being able to see his father during those last few days he was alive. This was devastating. I see other kids with their siblings, playing soccer, bonding, and telling each other jokes, but I only see my siblings every two years if I’m lucky. I can’t imagine how I would feel if my siblings were here. I know I wouldn’t feel as lonely as I do now. 

It’s not easy to be a child of immigrants, feeling scared every second of your life, and constantly thinking about “what ifs.” Last summer, when I was at camp in Maine, miles away from my parents, immigration police arrived on my first day. I wasn’t allowed to contact anyone, and I had a meltdown. It was heart-wrenching to think about being separated from my parents, and yet these borders have stopped my parents from doing the same—seeing their mothers forever. Can you imagine not being able to see your mother?

A borderless world is like an eagle soaring through the sky, completely free. In a borderless world, families would be united and everyone would live without fear of someone searching for them. In her YES! article “Alicia Garza: How to Prepare for 2020, author Kate Werning says, “We are often called to reflect on our lives, and how we want to mobilize for ourselves and our communities.” I often reflect on this beautiful dream that one day our world would be borderless, a dream that I will fight for.   

At the camp in Maine, I learned about the Hawaiian word ohana. Ohana is the spirit of family togetherness. It means that no one is ever going to be forgotten or left behind; they are stuck with each other no matter what. Ohana can also mean “nest,” which is where birds go to be safe with their families. Just like birds, immigrants want to be with their families in a safe space. Everyone together in one place, one day, one moment. 

Sary Barrios is a Guatemalan American student at Mamaroneck High School. Sary’s passion is to help others and give back to those who are in need of more. She has a huge love for her heritage and family.

Powerful Voice Winner

Avery Chase

Kirkwood High School, Kirkwood, Mo.

In My Eyes

There is a French photographer who said: “I will never be able to take a picture as beautiful as I see it in my eyes.”

Complex regional pain syndrome (CRPS) is a rare disease—there are less than 200,000 patients in the U.S. I was a competitive gymnast at nine years old. At a tournament,  I awkwardly dismounted from the bars and landed on my ankle. That moment changed my life. For the next eighteen months, I saw six doctors, four therapists, and three psychologists, took three  trips to different pain clinics, and missed about 100 days of school to search for answers to “the sprained ankle that could.” I was one of the “lucky” ones. That summer was a revolving door of experts dismissing me one after another.

The pain I experienced was beyond my ankle. I understand that I grew up differently, that most kids don’t divide their family moving cross-country for chronic pain rehabilitation. I have been living with CRPS for nine years—with a brief remission circa seventh grade—and a prognosis of “years to a lifetime.” Some days I’m better at accepting what I know and what I don’t. Other days it’s easier to lie in bed complacent to the pain. No matter what type of mindset, I must constantly strive to recover and hide disappointment every day that wasn’t pain-free. Outsiders haven’t seen the pictures I’ve seen—not through my eyes. Outsiders don’t know what it’s like to watch a 70-year-old squat better than you or realize that the only “record” you hold is “Longest-Stayed Patient,” not “Highest All-Around Score” in a gymnastics meet (where I really wanted to be).

It’s difficult to paint a picture of when my body physically shakes uncontrollably. My eyes scan it slowly, realizing my helplessness. Or the picture of mornings I wake up with a split lip after having habitually chewed it. Or the days I wish I wasn’t a breathing mortgage for my parents. Or the nights I spend praying for the safety switch, trusting my body will scientifically pass out if pain exceeds a threshold. There are still stories that I can’t tell and stories I don’t want to remember.

In psychologists’ offices, I go mad trying to cling onto any word I can to describe my pain, and, too often, I fail. In my wildest dream, I’m able to paint the masterpiece that finally allows people to understand the years and tears. Currently, I am trying for a picture-perfect life. I’m taking steps to overcome my highest anxieties by listening to doctors, pushing through compulsions, getting out of bed, and challenging cognitive distortions. I am living the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life. I know that the steps to overcome Chronic regional pain syndrome don’t necessarily mean a pain-free life. I can’t change the existence of the problem itself, but I can change the way I deal with the problem. In my wildest dream I can accept myself and whatever I accomplish, even if it is not perfect.  I can learn to accept that CRPS and everything it comes with will always be a part of my life, my disappointments, and my triumphs.

The pain translates to today. Every day, I make decisions based on that gymnastics meet nine years ago and the hundreds of hours of doctor’s appointments and clinic visits throughout the years. I wonder who I’d be if I skipped gymnastics that night. If Boston is simply a city with smart colleges, not just medical treatments. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to understand a life without my pain. What I do understand though is that being healed won’t change me. I know how it has influenced me, but I doubt I will ever stop learning either. For that reason, my life is a life with CRPS, with and without pain. I am who I am because of these experiences and the circumstances I have yet to face.

Avery Chase lives in St. Louis, Missouri, the city with the most neurotic weather in the country. Avery coaches gymnastics in her free time and has an irrational fear of cats. She plans to attend Kansas University and study social work.

Powerful Voice Winner

Daniel Cook

Spring Hill College, Mobile, Ala.

Fighting the Undertow

Have you ever been caught in an undertow? Imagine swimming through waves—feeling the cool rush send a shock through your body— when a force begins pulling you away from the shore. You try swimming back to the beach but feel the current’s grip dragging you farther out to sea. After a minute, your arms and legs begin hurting. You start choking on water as you gasp for air. You attempt to yell for help only to be choked on by more water. Your mind is in a state of panic as your body begins shutting down. Suddenly, you remember what your parents told you, “Swim parallel to the shore.” You turn and start swimming again. Every muscle screams in agony, but you keep fighting. Finally, after what seems like an eternity, the force stops. Relief floods your mind. You slowly swim to the shore and crawl onto the sand. Falling flat on your back, you breathe peace back into your soul. 

Life is full of undertows. Today we are faced with so much political and social injustice that many people feel as if they are caught in an undertow of emotions. I was caught in this particular undertow for a while. As a gay male living in the Deep South, I have struggled with finding my place in society. I have often asked myself questions such as  “Who do I want to become?,” “What do I stand for?,” and “How can I help others?.” With the start of the new year, I have decided it is time to face these questions. 

I am an activist at heart. It is my purpose. With the help of the YES! article “How to Prepare for 2020” and Alicia Garza, I was able to pinpoint objectives that I should focus on instead of aimlessly treading through life, being swept further away from my goals. I want to be able to hold my husband’s hand in public without eyes glaring in our direction. I want to have a place of worship that accepts me. I want to be able to enroll my children in school without the fear of them being bullied for having gay parents. I want a job without having the fear of being dismissed because of my sexuality. I want to be seen as an equal instead of as an “other.” And most of all, I want to live in a world where I don’t have to fear being murdered like Matthew Shepard. 

In order to achieve all of this for myself and people like me, I have to be more active. The article helped me outline steps I can take within the next year to help myself and others in the LGBTQ+ community. These steps include getting involved with a local LGBTQ+ activist organization, getting trained in how to provide safe spaces for people to freely discuss issues affecting them, and reading more literature and research on LGBTQ+ issues while  making these resources more available to the public. If I can conquer these steps, I will have made 2020 worth wild. 

2020 is the year I have decided I will no longer be a victim of the undertow. By focusing on my goals and following steps to achieve them, I will have the knowledge and ability to get out of the treacherous current of fear and anxiety about being who I am. I will no longer drown in the self-doubt accompanied by not knowing what I stand for. I will glide through the waters of hate and social injustice and hopefully arrive one day on the shores of equality, love, and acceptance. 

Daniel Cook is a proud gay man. Daniel was born and raised in Alabama and embraces his Southern roots while also advocating against the social injustices around him. He wants to use his privilege to help others have their voices heard and dreams of a world where all lives are valued and no one is considered an “other.”

“Can I Dream?” Winner

Maitreya Motel

High Meadow School, Rosendale, N.Y.

Can I Dream?

How do you dream in a nightmare? How do you solve a puzzle when half of the pieces have been stolen? I remember being barely twelve years old when the shooting happened at Parkland. My dad held onto me like I would vanish any second, sobbing while we listened to the news. 

When you’re 12 years old, you’ve thought about death a lot in theory, but rarely in a way that’s grounded in reality. You normally aren’t considering, “Oh, it could happen like this. Someone could have a gun and you could be in the bathroom at the wrong time. Someone could have a gun and your sixth-grade classmates could sneeze at the wrong moment. Someone could have a gun and shoot you. And you won’t be able to say goodbye to your mom and dad or tell them how much you love them. When’s recess?” 

I guess kids used to dream about being movie stars and star football players and millionaires. Now, I look around and we’re praying to make it through high school. And beyond that? Will the planet be liveable? Will our kids be okay? We want answers and guarantees. Are there any guarantees anymore? Our dreams are survival based. How much can you dream before waking up again? 

But I do have a dream.

My dream is to have the luxury of dreaming. My dream is to live in a world where what matters most is that new movie or first date. My dream is for us to be kids again instead of feeling like the future is on our shoulders. If I lived in this world, I could breathe again. Maybe, just this once, I’d get to sleep.

Maitreya Motel, an eighth-grade student at High Meadow School in New York, has been writing and producing her political Vlog “Eye On Politics” since age 10. Maitreya has been a featured speaker at women’s marches, climate change events, and political rallies, and is a member of her town’s youth commission and her county’s climate-smart commission. Her best pals are her two rescue dogs, Jolene and Zena. 

From the author Kate Werning: Response to Essay Winners

Dear Theo, Kira, Athina, Sary, Avery, Daniel,  Maitreya,

Thank you so much for sharing your writing with all of us (and some of you have shared your essays in your own voice on the podcast, too!). It takes guts to be real and vulnerable in public—to share your struggles and to be audacious enough to have dreams & compelling visions in a world where there is so much suffering.

At Irresistible, we believe that healing and social transformation are deeply connected— and that a critical foundation for both is radical honesty. To face where we feel vulnerable and afraid and powerless. Where we’ve been humiliated, shortchanged, discriminated against, or told to give up. To really feel into those places, because our deepest truth is what connects us and can become the source of our greatest power. We have to be real with ourselves about what hurts and scares us most, and connect with others’ heartbreaks and fears to move in a journey toward change together.

I see that courage in each of you. Avery, we feel you so deeply when you say “It’s difficult to paint a picture of when my body physically shakes uncontrollably. My eyes scan it slowly, realizing my helplessness.” Athina, we connect when you talk about feeling like a “woman with no nation.” Theo, I remember when I’ve been there too when you say “Sharing dreams of how I could positively change the world makes me uncomfortable. Why would I open myself up to that level of critique, especially in middle school?”

Yet despite the discouragement and pain, you still have big dreams—and I want to live in these worlds you are visioning! Maitreya’s world, where kids “have the luxury of dreaming.”Sary’s “borderless world [that] is like an eagle, soaring through the sky, completely free.” Daniel’s world where he is “able to enroll [his] children in school without the fear of them being bullied for having gay parents.” I want to follow your leadership and the leadership of youth organizers all over the country—you truly are “Generation Transformation.”

As Kira paints for us, “Maybe roots used to run where we couldn’t see them, connecting us to each other and spreading through the world like telephone lines across our continent.” I see each of you growing those intertwining roots through your commitments to working with refugees, volunteering with your local LGBTQ+ activist organization, and training your bodies and minds toward your goals.

Especially now, as 2020 is turning out so completely differently than any of us could have imagined, the moves you are making toward your visions are critical. I’ve often felt like my hard work trying to contribute to liberation movements has been futile, that the world is getting crueler in so many ways. But I also remember that even though I’m only 32 years old, I am amazed at how much has already changed radically in my lifetime— toward a world of more racial justice, immigrant rights, LGBTQ+ & gender liberation, disability justice, and so much more. It does get better.

adrienne maree brown teaches us that in every small action we take, we shape change. Even under the intense conditions we currently face, this remains true. With our big visions as a strong north star, we find the next right move we can make toward freedom.

Keep dreaming, keep taking action, and keep sharing your story with powerful honesty. I’m right next to you on the journey.

—Kate Werning

Literary Gems

We received many outstanding essays for the spring 2020 Student Writing Competition. Though not every participant can win the contest, we’d like to share some excerpts that caught our eye:

My wildest dreams would be a world filled with non-judgmental people, self expectations—not anybody else’s expectations of me—being me and loving it, less school stress, and, of course, free puppies!
—Izzy Hughes, The Crest Academy, Salida, Colo.

I want to imagine a place where I can go wherever I want without having to worry about another person violating my body. No one should ever touch another person without their permission. That is what I want. 
—Ruby Wilsford, Goodnight Middle School, San Marcos, Tex.  

Type 1 diabetes is not a choice or a result of poor life decisions. It is an autoimmune disorder in which the body attacks itself. How can Americans justify that it is acceptable to pay seventy-two times the worth of a life-or-death product?
—Elise Farris, Spring Hill College, Mobile, Ala.

I was born on April 26, 2005, in a hospital in Appleton, Wisconsin, the home of the first hydropower plant and the “world-famous” Harry Houdini Museum. Then, at age three, my family moved to Beloit, Wisconsin, a town on the board of Wisconsin and Illinois. My parents sent me and my siblings to a Catholic school 12 miles north in a town called Janesville, Wisconsin. It was like living in two cities at once. My family lived in one and my friends and their families lived in the other. I thought the situation was fine, but as I got older, I started to notice things. I noticed how my friends felt uncomfortable when we went anywhere else in Beloit besides my house. I noticed how adults grimaced when I said I was from Beloit. And, suddenly, I felt my situation wasn’t fine.
—Charlotte Mark, Craig High School, Janesville, Wis. 

Pandemics happen when we fail to be aware of how interrelated we really are—when we fail to note the doors we open, the hands we shake, and the spaces we share every day. Mindful of these connections, we realize that the health of one of us affects the health of all of us. We must care for our fellow beings, even if it means personal sacrifice.
—Donald Wolford, Kent State University, Kent, Ohio

I can help others, but I also need to know what to do when dark thoughts manifest in my own mind.
—Natalie Streuli, Brier Middle School, Brier, Wash.  

If I’ve learned anything in the past 13 years, it’s that things never go as planned. Having a rough draft of your life is okay, but never expect it to turn exactly how you imagined.
—Emerson Reed, The Crest Academy, Salida, Colo.

There are about 40 million food-insecure people in the United States and 13 million of those people are children … I want these people to go to sleep full and knowing that they will get another three meals tomorrow.
—John Francis, Our Lady Star of the Sea, Grosse Pointe Woods, Mich.

… I was floating, levitating in midair when the voice began slowly whispering. His voice washed over my body like warm sunlight on a summer day. “This is what inner peace feels like. You tried your best and did the most you can, but to achieve this, you must continue on.” He disappeared and the world collapsed on itself. I was motivated to do better but now looking back I wish I had started sooner.  
—Nicholas Tyner, American School of The Hague, Wassenaar, Netherlands

Failure isn’t a dangerous monster we should run from. It is a beautiful seed of a flower yet to blossom.
—Jarrod Land, Mamaroneck High School, Mamaronec, N.Y.

I’ve yet to figure out how to complain about my perfectionist nature without it sounding like a twisted form of bragging. As it turns out, whining about being tired of trying so hard just makes it look like you’re fishing for praise. Ironically, you rarely get either. 
—Claire Beck, Kirkwood High School, Kirkwood, Mo.

I can never talk to my parents about my feelings directly because what goes into the pot is an argument and what comes out is unsolved problem soup with a side of tears.
—Tracee Nguyen, President William McKinley High School, Honolulu, Hawai’i

I’m not exactly sure what I want to be when I grow up, but I am certain that it’s not going to require me to know how to find points on a graph or to understand slope intercept form, well at least not to the point that I need to study the subject for months on end, and why do I need to know how to find the cubed root of a six-digit number on paper? Who doesn’t have access to a calculator?
—Lauren Ragsdale, Lincoln Middle School, Ypsilanti, Mich. 

I can’t truly say how many nights I’ve spent tossing and turning because something was crawling around in my head. The anxiety smothering any free thoughts I had, forcing me to stay awake, and to start questioning every choice I’ve ever made. Those nights are always the hardest considering who I want to be: somebody who believes without fear of judgment, somebody who loves who they are, somebody who helps without prompting.
—Daniel Heineman, Kent State University, Kent, Ohio

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