Meet Our Past Scholarship Winners
Thanks to all the students who participated in our biannual Textbooks for a Year Scholarship Essay contest and congratulations to our winners!
Winner: Melody Sarno, James Madison University
Topic: To write an article or blog post for a college themed blog
Essay: Let’s be real- people always make a huge deal about the transition from high school into college. They throw a ton of advice at us as if their college experience was the most important and their knowledge and wisdom about what to do should be set in stone. They remind us again and again the freedom and fun of college and tell their drunken stories and summarize their all-nighters pulled during exam weeks. They emphasize college as a time to “find yourself”, “try new things”, and “let loose”. But let’s stay true to ourselves. College is fun and we will have it. College forces freedom and we will enjoy it. But college is hard work that leads us to a degree, and we will achieve it.
After my rant on cliché college advice, I’d like to hypocritically offer my own. Don’t worry though- most advice for a college-aged student falls under recommendations in financial, social, academic, and sleep-deprived issues and tackling them before they occur. My advice is for what to do to set yourself up for success after earning your degree.
Remember that although guidance in the aforementioned areas are important and will end up being beneficial to know, the main reason a student attends university is for the college education. Yes we want to reevaluate our beliefs, rebel against our parents, and kiss busy work and assignments goodbye. But, we can all agree that despite the fun and freedom, the end-goal is a degree. Amidst all of the pressure and new experiences, it’s hard to remember that during a college career, the friendships you build are actually important beyond helping one another through the stresses of college-life. The people you meet and the activities you participate in will either help or hinder you when you enter the job market after earning your degree. Meeting new people sounds great when you’re forced into doing it because you will be away from all of your friends from home, but purposefully introducing yourself beyond finding friends just to have friends can sound quite daunting. Suck it up and push your fear and laziness aside. Learn from someone who really wants to be able to find a job after graduation like most every other college student.
As a student, I’ve learned that networking and contacts are one of the most important things you can develop and work on outside of a college degree to attain the career you aspire to. When you start college as a freshman, the easiest thing to do is to find people who are most like you and share your interests and beliefs- and then spend all of your time and energy with them and build friendships with those you are comfortable with. I definitely did that my freshman year with the Catholic Campus Ministry (CCM) at my University. I needed a comfortable place to find myself and needed a group of friends I knew had the same values as me. I found this in the community at CCM. I ran to every CCM event and spent all of my time and sociability with other students participating in CCM. Although this vamped my spiritual life and my social life within CCM, it left me in a bubble with a small number of contacts, all sharing the same affiliation.
Fast forward to this summer. Through the zillions of job applications I’ve filled out and friends I’ve complained to about my struggles in my job search, I’ve learned that the bubble I created for myself during my freshman year is now hindering me in my hunt for employment. Most all of my friends who were offered jobs had a way in through a friend or acquaintance they had met through opening themselves up to networking and building an array of contacts. Alexis Grant wrote a great article for US News that agrees with the problem of the bubble and that it needs to be popped!
Keeping this in mind, it’s important and well worth it to take advantage of the range of contacts available to you on your institution’s campus. Remember that diversity found on college campuses stems beyond culture and race. The diversity of a university includes the different intellectual abilities, extracurricular interests, walks of life, hometowns, and successes of each student in attendance.
My strong advice for any student at any time during their college career is to place yourself in situations where you can meet new people who fall under an assorted number of these points. Join clubs you might not have previously joined, take unusual and interesting classes that may have nothing to do with your major. Talk with professors and build personal relationships with them. If you are already a student attending university, take a step back and look at the relationships you’ve forged already. Are you opening yourself up to new people, or are you creating a comfortable bubble for yourself that may hinder you later? Introduce yourself to as many people as you can, seek common ground, and if after introducing yourself you notice an area where you can mutually benefit one another-trade information! The next time you’re at a party or social gathering, make it a point to actually get their name and number. During syllabus week when each person takes turns around the room during class introducing themselves and their interests, make it a point to find the person after class you thought had said something interesting or something that had jumped out at you. If you hear two people having a discussion on your bus shuttle through campus about something that catches your attention, introduce yourself and offer your two cents. I can think of instances just like these that I regret not saying something. If the infamous Pinterest pin stating “I’d rather regret the things I’ve done than the things I haven’t” is your new motto for college life in the way that it is for so many students, keep this in mind in your social interactions throughout your days on campus. It wouldn’t hurt to have an extra contact in your back pocket when you are propelled into the real world searching for a job after graduation!
Winner: Caitlin Bubel, Drexel University
Book Title: Atlas Shrugged
Book Author: Ayn Rand
Essay: Dagny Taggart is one of the main characters from Ayn Rand’s novel, “Atlas Shrugged.” After reading this book, I found myself still thinking about her character and how I am striving to be like her. She has made an impact on the woman I am becoming because of her many great qualities, including confidence, having a good work ethic, and overall happiness. She has taught me many life lessons that I continue to carry with me as I am faced with all the challenges and major decisions life throws at me.
Being a woman in engineering, I can relate to Dagny Taggart in many aspects. She was a businesswoman and vice president of a railroad company in “Atlas Shrugged,” during a time when many women did not hold jobs, let only powerful ones. She was a woman in a man’s job, which is similar to what I am facing as a woman in a man’s field of study. Since engineering is such a male dominant field, my peers are often surprised when I tell them my major, mechanical engineering. As a kid I was always interested in engineering, even though I didn’t know it at the time. Like Dagny, I had big dreams to figure out how things work and to build them. I set a goal at an early age and have been following it ever since. Dagny has taught me to stay true to my dreams, as she had similar dreams and optimism as a kid. She also taught me not care about what others think; if I want to pursue engineering then I should. She is a very empowering woman and a great role model. After reading about her I gained confidence and trust in my abilities and in myself, which ultimately helped me learn to always speak up and take risks when needed.
Dagny has also taught me that being smart is something to strive for. She is very relatable when she says; “They dislike me because I’ve always had the best grades in class…I always get A’s. Do you suppose I should try to get D’s for a change and become the most popular girl in school?” (Rand 98) From this she has taught me that the people that dislike you because you’re smart are the ones that are jealous. Dagny is confident, but not cocky. She values knowledge and work ethic rather than popularity. She knows her strengths and weakness, which is something she has taught me, is necessary and helpful to identify. Dagny is seen a smart and beautiful businesswoman, and with power and success comes jealousy and opposition. From this I am learning not to care about what other think about me. Dagny states, “you don’t have to see through the eyes of others, hold onto yours, stand on your own judgment, you know that what is, is-say it aloud, like the holiest of prayers, and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise” (Rand 815). I should be able to tell everyone I want to be an engineer, and as long as I know who I am and I’m happy with that, nothing else matters. Dagny is focused on being the best you can possibly be. She works constantly and often sleeps in her office because she is working at all hours. She wants everything to be at full potential and does all she can to make that happen.
These life lessons have impacted me in my school life as well as my everyday life. Dagny taught me that is attractive to be a woman in engineering and that I should hold my head high and take advantage of the schooling I’m receiving. She also continues to remind me that success doesn’t come without hard work. I worked hard to get into a prominent engineering school, and now I am continuing to work hard to pay for it and to graduate in the top of my class. Although she is a fictional character, she reminds me that women can do great things in a man’s world and go far in life. I am reminded that there are many successful women engineers and that I can be just as good as they are. She has made me feel very optimistic about my future, as well as reminds me that I shouldn’t waste my time on things I don’t love and enjoy doing.
One of the most important lessons that Dagny Taggart has taught me is that happiness should be your main goal in life. Dagny is very aware of what makes her happy. Working really hard and for long hours is something that brings happiness to her, so she strives for it. When people see Dagny, they notice that, “she was speaking with a swift, bright certainty, conscious of nothing but the joy of performing her natural function in her natural world where nothing could take precedence over the act of offering a solution to a problem” (Rand 727). Dagny is a critical thinker that enjoys problem solving and working hard. It brings her happiness and joy to do her job. I think this is a very important lesson, sometimes forgotten in today’s society. It is has been instilled at me in a early age that it is important to work hard, get a good education and become successful, and be happy. Out of all of these things most important is happiness. I have learned that I need to find what makes me happy and do it. Although I am in engineering school and I enjoy my classes, I also am involved in clubs and other activities just because they bring me joy and happiness. I was also involved in a college sport that began to bring me more frustration and resentment than happiness. I could have stuck it out for the rest of my college career, but I realized that it wasn’t worth being unhappy for the next three years. Although it was a difficult decision, I ultimately chose not to continue the sport into my sophomore year, and I have honestly been much happier since. I learned to focus makes me happy, school, family, clubs, friends, and to make these things the main priority in my life.
Thanks to Dagny Taggart I have learned many life lessons that are important to know in college, and as I transition into a career. She has taught me to stay true to myself and to live my life doing something to the best of my ability. Along with these lessons, she has also taught me to value happiness and to strive for it because it is the most important thing in life.
Winner: Savannah Lim, New York University
Book Title: The Unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath
Book Author: Sylvia Plath (edited by Karen V. Kukil)
Essay: The sonnet and sestina beckoned first and echoed through my mind for years. Such gracefully jarring poetry is not easily forgotten. I admired Sylvia Plath for crafting these soul-stirring masterpieces, but when I happened upon The Unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath, I found another side to her writing. Not only were a wider variety of her poems interspersed throughout her dutiful diary entries, but the thoughts that filled her mind were carefully jotted down too. At this point, I learned to appreciate Sylvia Plath\’s work more than ever, as I had a window into her mind. I loved her personal writing, even outside her usual poem, for its candor, beauty, and ability to inspire.
I have never experienced such a concentration of penetrating truth as that in Sylvia Plath\’s writing. I was surprised by how well she put words to obscure observations that seemed more instinctual than describable. She wrote directly about her emotions, outlining every positive and negative sensation. What surprised me about her thoughts was that she conveyed a deep and inherent honesty that I have rarely encountered with other writers. Her entries were full of life, truer than reality. She was insecure, just like many girls today, and the internal conflicts she recorded on paper connected her to me. She struggled in her pursuit of becoming a writer, having to choose between the \”loss of faith in writing\” and the insecurity that comes with a lack of money. In addition, she met cynicism and social pressures with defiance and knew the roots of the problems she faced. She became angry at the \”people and images\” that wanted us to be \”what we do not want to be from our hearts.\” And when she was charged with happiness, I felt as if I was there with her merely through her words as she \”ran yipping upstairs\” and \”jumped about like a Mexican bean.\” Sylvia Plath expressed her emotional experiences in such a tangible way that as I was reading the book, I was also living her journey.
Sylvia Plath was able to insightfully and charmingly convey an idea. She understood and had a grasp on the intangible qualities of life. Still, she questioned and wondered, on a perpetual quest to gain knowledge. She ventured beyond ordinary perspective and unearthed the overlooked, overgeneralized facets of everyday happenings. When reflecting on her place in the world, she realized that \”the rocks, which are nameless, the waves which are nameless, the ragged grass, which is nameless, are all defined momentarily through the consciousness of the being who observed them.\” In this way, she pointed out the ephemeralness of existence. Through her contemplations, simple things held more mystery and brief moments contained more beauty. She looked past the surface and wrote with astounding gravity. She knew which words to use and used them well. Her writing left me breathless at times in its simplicity, yet she built such large concepts so naturally. A genuinely skilled artisan, she wove words with ingenuity and ease.
Sylvia Plath inspired me to continue being curious and keep searching for answers. In her writing, she was self-aware, alert, and thoughtful. Her journal entries betrayed a zest for learning that is contagious. As an achingly intelligent person, she made a myriad of lasting observations. She knew that \”the worst enemy to creativity is self-doubt\” and considered everything to be writable as long as one has \”the outgoing guts to do it, and the imagination to improvise.\” Moreover, her attitude towards learning causes me to want to shoot for the stars myself. The Unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath reminds me that I am not alone. There have been people before me, like Sylvia Plath, who have worried just as much and posed even more questions than I already dare to ask. This book was like a tonic for my restless mind, and it gave me some peace to see another person who was just as overwhelmed by the wonders and barriers of existence. The determination with which she works inspires me to be just as diligent in my dreams.
Sylvia Plath will forever remain one of my favorite writers. From reading her poetry and published journals, I have a deeper understanding of the reason behind her words and I have become fonder for her writing and thinking in its truthfulness, its simple but beautiful expression, and its inspirational qualities. The Unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath has added substantially to my appreciation for my surroundings. I am grateful to Sylvia Plath for not being afraid to truly write, and for giving me a new perspective.
Winner: Jennifer Eckert
Topic: What prominent person would you like to interview and why? This may be someone who isliving, deceased or even fictional. Use a book to support your position.
Influential Book: The Book of Abigail and John by L.H. Butterfield and Mary-Jo Kline
Essay: Collected in this tome are letters culled from the voluminous correspondence of the Adams family. Of especial interest are the missives exchanged between John Adams and his wife, Abigail. Begun during their courtship and continuing throughout their marriage during separations necessitated by business requirements and political postings, these letters demonstrate the lifelong affection, respect, loyalty, and commitment shared by these early American patriots and loving spouses. Through these letters, readers trace the burgeoning relationship of newfound love, the enduring patience spanning years of separation, the growing dissent with England’s governance, and the rise of the independent American government.
The character of Abigail Adams (née Smith) revealed in her correspondence details a brilliant woman whose gift for writing was not impeded by grammatical or spelling errors. The clarity of her intellect transcends these minor foibles and shines through the pages, both enchanting and educating the reader in the letters she wrote. Whether discussing agricultural anxieties of the family farm, concerns about aging parents or her growing children, the geo-political issues facing her absent husband or matters in her own local parish, Abigail held decidedly firm opinions and did not hesitate to express herself on such in her own particular style.
My interview with Abigail Adams would be conducted at Braintree, the family estate where she worked tirelessly to provide for her family and succeeding generations of Adams. Surrounded by the lands she knew so well, I would first ask her to share her views on the role of women in politics – while overt positions were unheard of in her day, nevertheless no one doubted the powerful influence she held over her husband. Her opinions on modern-day women and their political positions, ranging from local mayors to Cabinet members, would be not only pithy but pertinent and applicable to both sexes. To use a contemporary phrase, Abigail would have fully supported the shattering of the post-Colonial glass ceiling. While not denying his political record, one wonders if she herself as a politically savvy woman would not have made a better President than her husband. I have no doubt but that Abigail would have marched in the parades of the Women’s Movement supporting women’s right to vote, and would have fully endorsed women as political candidates worthy of any office in the country.
Abigail fully supported the notion that educational opportunities should be extended to daughters as well as sons. I would enjoy hearing her commentary on the rise of women in higher education. Coming from an era when any educational advancement lay out of reach for most Americans, Abigail would no doubt be proud of our modern era in which women outnumber men as college students. She benefited from the few educational opportunities that existed for women in her social circle, absorbing knowledge from many sources. She read whatever books were available within her family and neighborly settings. She acted as a sounding board of uncommon good sense to her husband’s lawyerly writings and political drafts. Through her own tireless industry, she managed the finances, bought and sold properties, oversaw tenants, and kept her family free from debt. Abigail would have been a vociferous supporter when women began attending college, and in my interview with her I would probe her own views on the inclusion of and rise in women in collegiate spheres.
Yet despite her strong and independent character (recall that for many years, she and her husband were separated not only by state borders but by the Atlantic Ocean as well), she maintained an unflagging loyalty to John Adams and their marriage. Her overriding concern for his wellbeing, his physical health, and his mental and emotional stability recurs thematically through her letters to him. Today we see high divorce rates among couples who lack the endurance and commitment shared by the Adams. In an interview with Abigail, I would ask her to share with modern women her sage advice regarding the marital state and the steadfast, abiding love she and her husband retained through the long years of their romance. I have no doubt that mutual respect as well as deep affection would be high on her list of characteristics of a lasting marriage. So many of their exchanged missives were addressed as “My Friend” or “My Dearest Friend,” reflecting the reciprocal esteem in which each regarded the other. Modern-day spouses have much to learn from the Adams about love, admiration, dedication to the bonds of matrimony. This is not to say that the Adams never argued or had conflicts. Abigail would certainly talk about that in my interview with her. But she would be quick to point out the importance of never allowing arguments to become personal but instead remain focused on the problem.
Finally, in my interview I would ask Abigail to summarize for our generation her opinions on the direction in which our country should proceed. In an era when political views seem so sharply divisive, I believe her reflections on a real political division requiring bloodshed and sacrifice through the Revolutionary and post-Colonial years would solidify the shared unity of all Americans, and serve to narrow the gap separating one political party from the other.
Winner: Nishita Soneji
Topic: Identify one person who has had a significant and positive impact in your life and explain how some of these influences have changed your life. This may be a relative, a teacher or even a public figure who has inspired you.
Essay: As the seasons pass by, the infant in the cradle of spring matures into an adult fighting with summery real world, who after passing the sapient autumn lands in the hands of wintry death. Every season fills one’s surrounding space with life but the invisible matter that fills one’s heart space with life is a human. My young sister, Priya, is my invisible matter. She acts like a cute satellite bringing about high and low tides in my life. Her laugh makes me forget all the problems and her cry increases my problems. Sometimes, I stand before her like a little puppy dancing on her instructions and some other times, I stand before her like a ‘road closed’ sign restricting her from entering a wrong pathway. I am not only her living teddy bear but also her bodyguard.
It was a terrible blow to me when mom told me that I would have to start sharing my room after nine months. I was then twelve years but big enough to understand what she meant. In my childhood years, I had never wanted a sibling; I was certain that my huge cake, filled with parents’ love, would be divided into halves. Back in those days, I was like a sheep imprudently following the crowd. My friends told me intense stories about how they fall into the pits of trouble because of their siblings. Their cake was divided into pieces, the larger piece going to the younger one. These fibs of my so-called friends turned my childhood dreams into nightmares.
My nightmares were filled with the burden of responsibilities and punishments for not undertaking them in a decent manner. I have heard my American classmates say that their siblings are not their responsibilities. However, India is very different from America regarding the family matters. The family bonds represent highly linked family web similar to a food web. As the energy and matter flow through a community of species in a food web, the love and responsibilities flow through the Indian family web. If one leaves the web, the whole family is affected. I was reluctant to take up these obligations. I saw them as huge stones in my road to success. Nevertheless, I had forgotten that the road did not only contain huge stones but also the dynamites of love to shape them into useful devices needed to achieve success.
I still remember the day she was born. It was a very stormy day; the wind was hammering the doors. Her first cry led my father to jump off his seat and run towards the hospital ward in which my mother was kept. As I entered the room after a little while, I saw a circle of acquaintances around her. All of them had a glowing smile on their face. I had made up my mind to ignore her; however, I was attracted towards her as an iron particle attracts the magnet.
From then on, my life changed. Her presence changed my perspective towards responsibility. I realized that the responsibilities were not a burden but the challenges to face the real world. Before she was born, I was the youngest person in my family. Thus, my parents always protected me from the outside world. However, after she was born, I was the one who protected her from the real world. She made me a responsible, mature and caring sister. She was the one who gave life to my inner soul and took the element of selfishness out of me. She made me mature and responsible at a very young age but did not take away my childhood from me; I can still see myself in her childish nature. I always see my shadow over her, sometimes aiding her in naughty activities and some other times protecting her from the bad outside weather. A river of love and feelings flows between our hearts that makes my planet greener and livelier.
Winner: Jean Roosevelt Joinvil
Topic: Name one modern living figure who has had the greatest influence on you? Use support from a book to defend your position.
Influential Book: Gifted Hands: The Ben Carson Story by Ben Carson, MD.
Essay: Success Through Hard Work: As one of the world’s most renowned neurosurgeons, Dr. Benjamin Carson has inspired me tremendously. With the encouragement acquired from his mother and teachers, Dr. Carson was able to overcome many obstacles and turn challenges into triumphs. Dr. Ben Carson’s life struggles and his accomplishments hereafter has taught me to believe that an individual’s success in life depends on his hard work and perseverance, rather than on the individual’s family background, social status, or ethnic group. Thus, based on my own experience and those of others I have been honored to share, I believe that regardless of where an individual comes from, it is the decisions that he/she makes that determine the destination of life.
At the age of eight, Ben Carson’s parents were divorced. With only the support of his mother, Carson had no sense of direction as he was confused and troublesome. Consequently, Carson’s grades steadily declined until he ranked at the bottom of his class. Being the son of a single mother living in a tough urban neighborhood, Carson lacked the will and motivation to excel academically. Acknowledging her son’s troubled upbringing and poor performance in school, Carson’s mother enforced him to read, excel in classrooms and find purpose. Despite struggling with illness, Carson’s mother worked tirelessly to ensure Carson stayed away from the perilous neighborhood and focus on reading books. Hence, Carson graduated high school with honors and attended Yale University.
I was born and raised in Haiti, a country with an ineffective educational system. Similarly to Carson, I was not education oriented and lacked the motivation to learn. When I entered the U.S. eight years ago, I encountered many obstacles in my effort to learn English. As a result, my grades drastically suffered and I underperformed academically. Similarly to Carson’s mother, my parents have no higher than a sixth grade education. Nonetheless, I have found courage from my parents who frequently work multiple jobs to provide for the family. My first priority in life is education, for I believe with a superior education I can lead a positive lifestyle and effectively contribute in the community.
As a college sophomore, I live by the words and wisdom of Dr. Ben Carson daily. He emphasizes THINK BIG as a successful process to achieve one’s goals in life. Carson believed that God also has a pivotal role in his life because “If we acknowledge our need for God, he will help us”. Upon reading Gifted Hands in high school, I became inspired as I witnessed Carson’s first separation of Siamese twins joined at the back of the head, a twenty-two hour surgery that included a surgical plan Carson and his team initiated. Carson’s marvelous hand and eye coordination and reasoning skills made him an exceptional surgeon. He serves as my role model for he makes believe that the impossible is within reach. Everything Dr. Ben Carson has taught me sums up in a simple creed– one can achieve success through hard work, dedication, and commitment. Engraved in my being, those lessons are the foundation of my scholastic aspirations.