Christopher Zumski Finke's Response to “Less Stuff, More Heart” Essay Winners

Christopher Zumski Finke responds to the winners of our Winter 2018 Student Writing Competition.
It's A Wonderful Life

Dear Alejandra, Eva, Rhys, Heriberto, Remy, and Jake:

I cannot express the gratitude I feel for being given the chance to read your essays. The prompt you received for this essay about what non-material gift you would like to receive in your life; I hadn’t known that one gift I longed for was reading about your experiences. Each of you has a perspective on life that is unique to this moment, and I was humbled, captivated, and moved by all of your stories.

Eva, in your essay you capture the fundamental desire of so many of people: you want stories. To learn about your grandmother’s time in internment camps, and in hearing them to learn about yourself and your family. This is, to me, one of the greatest gifts there is, and the desire for family, history, identity, that it brings is to be cherished.

Remy, you’ve expressed a dream for a ‘truly accessible ability to travel the world,’ but in doing so you’ve also powerfully critiqued the manner in which I, and too many others, take for granted that which we receive without notice. Your writing vibrantly captures your desire to travel with equal access for disabled travels, and free from the gawking eyes of others. I’m thankful for the reminder of my failures, and won’t soon forget your wish of an outstretched hand to aid your adventures.

Alejandra, you long to see in the mirror not the expectations beset upon you, nor the doubt that inhabits all our minds, but the totality of yourself. What a blessing that gift would be. It’s one I, too, long for. Your words capture the difficulty we face as try to be ourselves, and see ourselves, and live fully as the individual we know we are.

Jake, your story profoundly moved me, and I’m sorry that such tragedy has already come into your life. Wanting more time with the people we love is not greed but heartache. As you wrote about the good that came from your dear friend’s death, I wonder at the strength and poise you demonstrate in your writing (and, I assume, your life).

Heriberto, your writing rings with passion, making a large-scale national crisis personal and true. The way you capture your brother’s concern, and your love for him that results, moved me but also angered me. The needless fear created by our current President’s actions on DACA must be opposed, and with young voices like yours engaging in that fight, I have hope for an outcome that will benefit your brother, and the 100s of thousands of other DACA enrolled young men and women in this country.

Rhys, you asked for a break from the racist reality that undergirds too many of the systems of power in our country. You ask for an end to that racism, and for a future  that sees ‘a young black girl with dreams’ as the capable leaders you are. Your voice raises up the cry of injustice. You write that given your wish, people would “stay strong in the face of racism.” I can tell you already have achieved that dream.

What strikes me most about your work together is how different each wish is, and yet how fundamentally similar the dreams are for our future. You want wholeness, peace, fulfillment, identity. You want an end to injustice, inequality, racism. These wishes are shared by many, but they can only be achieved when the world has a chance to meet individuals with empathy and understanding. And that’s what you young writers are doing.

By sharing the individual stories each of you have to tell, you brighten the world a little more, furthering our capacity for empathy and compassion. It’s a pleasure to know your stories, but more so, it’s important to hear them. Now that I know who you are, and what you’ve lived, we can work together to make your dreams possible.


Congratulations to all of you,


Christopher Zumski Finke



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