Danielle Knuth – First Place winner, Anne MacKay Scholarship Essay
“Pinocchio” and “Jew nose” were names I grew quite accustomed to hearing throughout elementary school. These names gave me a complex, which led to me being a little awkward in my high school years. I did not feel comfortable in my own body. I was self conscious about everything I did since I had been a target as a child.
I spent the majority of my days after school sobbing to my mother and listening to Taylor Swift’s songs about high school experiences, knowing I wasn’t alone. My mom would always tell me that everything would get better. But I didn’t want to hear it. I was so desperate for friends and to be accepted. I would kiss up to people just to be established into a group. Eventually I gave up on the whole process and kept to myself for a while. I figured high school is only four years of my life, and if people want to get to know me they can make the effort.
This new attitude enabled me to really focus on my studies. Not much of my time was wasted with hanging out with “friends”. It was the basis for my strong desire to persevere in life and become successful, not only for myself, but also as an “in your face” for all of the kids who made fun of me.
My mom was right though; high school did get better. Kids eventually grew out of the name-calling stage. Once people saw I didn’t care anymore and that I wasn’t going to change to have friends, they began opening up to me. They started conversations and began inviting me places. I had finally found my niche and made friends who like me for me.
If I hadn’t experienced this bullying growing up, I wouldn’t be nearly as strong a person as I am today. Because of the pain I experienced as a kid, not much fazes me anymore. I’ve come to the realization that good things do come out of bad things. I came out a stronger, more driven person with lifelong friends who appreciate me for who I am. They were lucky enough to get to know me personally and didn’t care what I looked like. Therefore, as much as I despise those kids who tortured me in school, their actions helped transform my disposition. Thanks to them I have never been more determined to thrive and make achievements in my life. Thanks to them I am now more comfortable than ever in my own skin, knowing that there are people who will take me as I am, and they’re the ones who are going to be my supporters and are here to stay. Thanks to them my character was molded from a timid, awkward girl afraid of being herself to a strong, confident young women who will not bend to society’s standards.
My experiences have also stopped me from drawing conclusions about people from first sight. I’ve become more outgoing through my struggles since many people could be feeling or going through what I have gone through. My childhood has made me an overall better person who is always willing to include others since I was the one left out as a kid. As a young adult I have so much interest in others and am very curious to talk to new people and learn about their backgrounds or beliefs possibly because of the lack of interest people displayed in me when I was younger. The struggles I faced also gave me a very strong conscious. Because of how badly I was mistreated because of my appearance, I could never have the heart to judge someone based on their exterior. I give people many chances. This is why I am always eager to include new people in my life; those who may seem different may end up being some of the most fascinating people you have ever met in your life, so I always make it a doing of mine to make the effort to talk to those people. Maybe if people had taken the chance to hold a conversation with me they would have seen that I am a very insightful person with a lot to say, but much like themselves also. Diversity is so important for that reason, among many; just because people look different or seem to not fit in doesn’t mean they are unapproachable, they may have extraordinary ideas. Sure, their beliefs or thoughts may be different from your own but you will learn something by making the effort to talk to them. I have gained so much by talking to those who society views a as “different”. By including diverse people in my life who are not similar to me or fit in with the norm of society, I have learned so much abut other cultures and religions that I never would have been enlightened on if I followed the crowds in school and kept to a clique.
Megan Demarest – Runner up winner, Anne MacKay Scholarship Essay
I entered the world as a shy little girl into a loving German American family. As I grew older, my family helped to shape me into an understanding, knowledgeable, and accepting individual. When I entered Greenport High School, diversity emerged as a major issue in my community. Greenport High School has a culturally diverse atmosphere that some people in my hometown, Orient, did not feel would provide the best educational setting for their children. This issue proved to be frustrating because I was taught that we are all equal regardless of skin color and beliefs. In my mind, the blending and abundance of diversity makes each and every individual special and unique in their own way. It exposes people to the greatest aspects of the world and can only contribute to our understanding of different cultures.
Throughout my studies and experiences thus far, the importance of diversity has become increasingly apparent. Two girls from Russia moved into the school district. They struggled to adjust to the setting and had difficulty learning the English language. I began to tutor the girls. As I helped to teach them about American culture, they helped to show me the beauty of their own culture. The joy the girls received from speaking of the food, celebrations, and music in Russia put a smile on my face. I began to understand and appreciate the experiences they presented me with to explore the Russian culture.
My appreciation of diversity did not stop there though. In my graduating class, there are a few students with varying disabilities. I have taken an interest and effort in attempting to aid and understand their methods of thinking. I learned that an autistic boy, who resists socializing with others, is very talented and intelligent. By making an effort to become his friend, he came to share my personal experiences with me. I discovered that he loves trivia and he deeply appreciates his family as I do my own family. Helping to include him in activities inside as well as outside of school, has taught me that just because he has a learning disability does not mean that he doesn’t have a story to share or experiences to tell. I consider myself privileged to be one of those people that know of his experiences and culture.
In high school, I also became aware of diversity in economic backgrounds. Some individuals in my community are wealthy, while others cannot afford basic necessities that most of us take for granted. When the Greenport Teachers Association held their Annual Chicken Dinner, the senior class was invited to buy a ticket and enjoy the dinner as a group. I realized numerous classmates did not attend this event, and later found out it was due to economic circumstances. This caused a classmate and me to begin planning a scholarship for those in need. As we continue to organize for the scholarship, I understand that each person has a different financial situation and we must be aware of this in order to help those in need.
Volunteering in the community provided me with a different appreciation of diversity. I am a member of the Southold Town Youth Bureau and Advisory Council. As a part of this group, I helped to organize and take part in an Anti-Bias Day. The day consisted of educating students, from three neighboring school districts, tolerance. The presentation showed the students the importance of acceptance and the harmful effects of discrimination. The day showed me that the power to educate others tolerance is a vital tool that should be fully utilized in everyday life.
Diversity is an important element in my life. All of the different backgrounds, cultures, capabilities, and economic situations that I have been exposed to in the past I believe will only aid me in the future. I plan on continuing to explore the many cultures within the world through traveling and interactions with others. Also, I hope to teach others tolerance throughout the rest of my life. Whether a person comes from a different country, has learning disabilities, or different beliefs, that person has a right to be accepted and not discriminated against. As I continue on to college and begin to study the field of criminology, I am motivated to utilize what I have learned about diversity to make educated decisions and continue my efforts of helping others while striving to immerse myself within different cultures.
Shelby Pickerell – Runner up winner, Anne MacKay Scholarship Essay
Some people advocate tolerance, but that is not enough. “Tolerance” still suggests that there is something inferior or wrongly unique, while in the big picture, individuality must be celebrated. It is acceptance and diversity that must be explained to today’s society, and I’ve made it my ongoing challenge to do so.
As a member of Southold School’s Gay Straight Alliance and Students Against Destructive Decisions, I have broadcasted my feelings about this topic. I believe in a no-‐judgment lifestyle, which is, in a way, the utopian community that we can always strive to create. In Quizbowl competitions, I unleash my inner nerd and witness the creative intellectual expression of my opponents that is seen through their answers rather than their looks. I am proud to be able to connect with many types of people.
The key is to expose children to diversity as early as possible and to continue to emphasize how different is not bad. When people don’t act, look, or even sound the same, it simply means they have a unique manner of expressing themselves. It’s like your own personal language; only you can fully understand it’s meaning, and this may be lost in bad translation. Southold has attempted to expose its students to each other’s quirks. In junior high, we had Mix-‐It-‐Up days when everyone was assigned a lunch table where we played games and asked questions from prompted cards. But the students rejected this idea and reverted to their stereotypical cliques. Occasionally, I still switch up my lunch seating to catch up with old friends or meet new students and underclassmen. Likewise, I want to be the one to extend a friendly hand as I enter my college career.
In Southold, the untrained eye sees only a black and white sea of monotony. True, there is not as much variation as an inner city school may have, but there are many hidden gems walking past that will shine if only we would ask. I would rather see these sparkling gems alive with character than the granite gray faces of the current high school life. The more color there is, the more we can look at and the less bored we will be, even in a school of 450 students. They’re like chameleons, always trying to blend in rather than expressing their true personalities in fear of the reprimands they may receive from their peers. The truth is that others are often jealous of the brave individuality some students can muster; they feel that their balanced and malcontent lifestyle is threatened by an abnormality. The result is bullying, disrespect, and harmful rumors that spread through the unvarying masses.
I attempt to stand out with personality and even clothing. Modest, colorful, stylish, and courageous outfits give off my approachable and confident aura. Then, once a week, I wear my Naval Junior ROTC uniform to proudly display my achievements and commitment to service. Although one would think that anything military crushes individuality, I would have to say that I have tapped into many new dimensions of my personality thanks to this program, as have many of my peers. The mixture of cadets covers all fields of life, and the family atmosphere that results is a better indicator of acceptance and inclusiveness than any other club. The most important lesson I have learned from this program is that those that are true friends stick by you, while those that are not will fall away in fear of any change.
Sadly, there is often a false superiority complex, created by discomfort and lack of understanding, which causes shoulders to turn on the growing Spanish-‐ speaking population in my district. To break the racial borders and learn about the unique culture these students add to Southold, I have tutored and worked with many to overcome their language barriers and build up confidence to join school clubs and teams that they had felt unwelcome in before. Some of my favorite conversations are those that I have with classmates from other countries or regions. There is so much to learn from those that pass us in the hallways.
My mother always tells amazing stories passed on from her international photography friends. So when I made my own international memories starting in tenth grade, I eagerly recited my adventures. My tally is now at 11 countries, my favorite being Sweden after my two month Rotary Short-‐term Exchange program. Since then, my international awareness and interest has bloomed and rekindled trip after trip. From it, I have tentatively charted my future course. After a short time in the Navy, I wish to work as a Foreign Service Officer for the U.S. State Department (a foreign diplomat focused on the well-‐being of American citizens abroad and intercultural exchanges), while continuing to participate in international community service projects. Languages are my passion, travel is my genre, and culture is my muse. Now, as president of Interact, I spread my acceptance, intrigue, and understanding of the diverse global community to my peers.
My ideal life is one of unparalleled diversity and international inclusiveness. And I hope that my studies can forecast such results. In each club I am currently a member of, there is an emphasis on the importance of individuality and a message of self-‐respect, friendship, and a shared word of kindness. These next four years will form a base to the life I will follow afterwards, and I wish to become utterly blind to the stereotypical “cool” and “normal” and be blinded by the true color of my peers’ unequalled personalities.