About the Winner: Jennifer Eckert
I am Jennifer C. Eckert, a non-traditional-aged student pursuing my long-awaited dream of higher education. During my undergraduate career, I worked as a Latin tutor, served for three years on the Academic Honor Board, and spent a summer as an intern in Manchester, UK at the Manchester Center for Anglo-Saxon Studies. I received my BA from Smith College in Medieval Studies and Religion, and now attend Fordham University in pursuit of my master's degree in Medieval Studies.
My college education has been an exercise in delayed gratification, and having started college in my late 30s, I am more aware than most of my younger peers of the rewarding opportunity to acquire knowledge at an advanced level. As an older student, my scholastic perspective is paradoxically expansive and focused, broadened and concentrated. My life experience allows me to keep my long-range aspiration firmly in sight while providing the ongoing resolve to achieve short-term goals. Both in my family and in my community, I continue to encourage potential students of all ages to realize that higher education is within their grasp. Aspirations and accomplishments are not limited by birthdays!
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.
About the Winner: Nishita Soneji
My name is Nishita Soneji and I am a freshman at University of Texas (UT) at Austin studying anthropology and biochemistry. I am looking forward to get into medical school and pursue M.D./Ph.D. I aspire to become a neurosurgeon/scientist. I am a part of Women in Natural Sciences Honors and Freshman Research Initiative at UT Austin. I am very interested in research and volunteer as undergrad research assistant in labs during summer. Freshman Research Initiative has given me an opportunity to research under UT faculty. My research involves the differentiation of wines by detecting tannins present in the wines using assay sensors.
On campus, I am involved with Red Cross and UT Hope Clubs. I help Red Cross with fundraising by assisting them Mass CPR annually. I have also successfully planned and implemented health fairs in underserved communities near Austin for UT Hope. I also volunteer on patient floors at the hospital. Apart from school and research, I love dancing, watching comedy movies, walking in the rain and experimenting with my cooking skills.
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.
About the Winner: Jean Roosevelt Joinvil
My name is Jean Joinvil, a Delaware resident who attends the University of Delaware. I was born in Haiti and raised in a family of six. I originally spoke Creole and learned French in school. I came to the United States in 2003, at the age of twelve. Not only did I find the U.S. very magnificent and new, but not being fluent in English, quickly discovered that school would be a big challenge. Despite the challenges, I set bigger short and long term academic goals to become a top tier student.
With my innate desire to lead and solve problems, I partake in various community services on school campus and summer programs. As a college student, I believe that community service is essential in advancing a country's common good and civic virtue. Two notable volunteering events I served were The United Service Organization food drive for troops and the Environmental Project GPS/Storm Water Management. My academic goal is to become a Physical Therapist, as I will attend graduate school upon completion of my undergraduate degree in Exercise Science. Furthermore, I enjoy reading and playing sports such as soccer, basketball and ultimate Frisbee.
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.
About the Winner:
I was born and raised in Denver, Colorado. I am one of four children and stuck in the middle. I have two older siblings and one younger sibling. My older brother has special needs, and it has had a huge impact on my life. I am one-fourth Mexican and three-fourths white. Being a mixture of extremely different cultures placed me in weird positions at times, but I embrace my differing cultural background. I was in a program in high school called International Baccalaureate, which is an elite program for those who wish to go beyond what AP and CP programs can do for them. I have always been hard working and reach beyond what is expected of me. Some of my hobbies include knitting, listening to music, and reading. I am a complete bibliophile and can not go a day without reading my favorite novels. I will be attending the University of Northern Colorado, in Greeley and will be majoring in Chemistry with a Focus on Pre-health. I desire to become a Pharmacist.
America was once the shining star to the West, a beacon of hope and a safe-haven for those seeking it. But today, America is spiraling into a whirlpool of disaster. Day by day we seem to be tinkering on the edge of collapse, getting closer to the bottom. We were in the same place once, when we thought nothing else could go wrong. The economy plummeted, and the stock market crashed. The roaring 20's were over, in came the Great Depressions. Americans had no hope for Herbert Hoover, and even called their shantytowns, "Hoovervilles". While it was not the fault of Hoover, most Americans felt it was. Americans lost their sparkle, their shine, their luminescence and were beginning to spiral into darkness. The economic situation in America and all over the world is quite similar to the beginning stages of the Great Depression. Soon, we will hit rock bottom if nothing is done, and soon.
I believe that Franklin D. Roosevelt can pull America out of this raging river that is sweeping us away in its tides. He can be out man of the hour. When elected in 1933, he immediately began creating social domestic plans in order to pull America out of our hole. For example, within days of his inauguration, FDR created the Emergency Banking Act. This act alone was able to reopen one-third of all Federal Reserve banks and $1 billion in currency flowed into them within one month. Despite the dire situation FDR was placed into, he fought through it and came out the victor. Many Conservatives disagreed with FDR's New Deal and in 1934, the Du Pont family formed the American Liberty League which directly attacked the New Deal saying the policies were, "dictatorial" and "attacked free enterprise." But despite this political opponents, FDR was still about to design these plans and initiate them with haste. FDR created programs that still exist today, such as Social Security and welfare. Without these programs in place then and now, Americans would not survive. The Great Depression affect the entire world, especially Europe and the USA. However, the one difference between Europe and America is that we had FDR to help us out of the mess we were in. FDR was an amazing President who held no fear of his opponents. He had plans and he got them passed and initiated with no wasting time. America needs another President like FDR to pull us out the mess we are currently drowning in.
Just recently, the US government almost shut down due to disagreements on budget cuts in April of 2011. I do not believe something like this would have ever happened if FDR were President once more. In dire consequences, such as these, fighting in disagreement can not occur. Things need to change here in America, and I believe FDR could bring that change about. He worked for every one of his three terms trying to better America and make it more economically and socially sound. Even when the New Deal did not go as planned, FDR made it work. For example, when the US Court System was striking down every one of his plans, he overhauled them. While this may have seemed like a move only done by a “power hungry leader”, it was a necessary move in order to get his plans initiated. Many Presidents today fear they will be ridiculed or impeached because not everyone liked their ideas of actions. But the job of the President is not the please his/her citizens; his/her job is to do what is best for the country and its people. Sometimes the best for the country and its people does not always please them, but it has to be done. I believe that FDR had this understanding and this is why I believe he could mend the gapping wounds on the chest of America.
FDR once said, “One thing is sure. We have to do something. We have to do the best we know how at the moment... If it doesn't turn out right, we can modify it as we go along.” I believe that America is a situation that we can no longer just sit in. We must do something in order to get it right once more. FDR I believe could be the saving grace that America so desperately needs.
About the Winner: Jessica Gresko
My name is Jessica Gresko, and I am a student at Georgetown University studying for a master's degree in the study of law. The program I am in is for journalists who want to report on courts, and I work as a reporter during the day. I have been a journalist for five years and have worked in my home state of California as well as in Miami and Washington, D.C. I have covered stories that have taken me everywhere from inside prisons to onboard a hurricane hunter plane flying into the center of a storm. Outside of work and school I like to read non-fiction books, to play games like pool and Scrabble and to bake. My specialty is banana chocolate chip bread. I have also written two history books for children.
Reading “Three Cups of Tea,” a nonfiction book about an American who makes it his mission to build and run schools in rural Pakistan and Afghanistan, has convinced me that education is much more important than health care, at least in this part of the world.
Three Cups of Tea begins in 1993 when climber Greg Mortenson attempts to scale K2, the world's second highest mountain. But Mortenson never makes it to the top, and on his way down the mountain he gets lost, winding up in a village called Korphe in Pakistan. The people in Korphe help Mortenson regain his strength, and to show his gratitude he volunteers to build the village a school. The promise changes his life. Through building the school, Mortenson comes to understand the need for education in this area of the world and sees the benefits education brings. He decides to keep building. To date, Mortenson has constructed more than 130 schools in this part of the world, schools that have educated nearly 60,000 students.
Mortenson explains that in Pakistan and Afghanistan the importance of education goes beyond having a smarter or happier or wealthier population. These are givens. Building schools and educating young people in this part of the world, I learned, has the power to do even more: to reduce terrorism and to empower women, lifting society as a whole. That's power health care just doesn't have.
One of the most compelling arguments Mortenson makes for the importance of education in Pakistan and Afghanistan is its power to combat terrorism. As he explains, rural Pakistan is a breeding ground for anti-American terrorists. Because the country's public schools are poorly funded, a second education system has grown up: religious schools called madrassas. At a madrassa, students are offered free room and board and an education, but the education is often an indoctrination into an extremist branch of Islam that promotes terrorism. For poor parents, madrassas are usually the only education option. With an alternate good source of education, however, these students don't take the same path. “When we increase literacy, we substantially reduce terrorism,” Mortenson explains. Reducing terrorism, in turn, makes Pakistan and the rest of the world a safer and more peaceful place.
Mortenson's terrorism argument on its own might be compelling enough to suggest that education is more important than health care in Pakistan and Afghanistan. But Mortenson's work also shows how educating women can be particularly transformative and important. He explains that once girls get just a fifth-grade education, “everything changes.” Women start becoming leaders in the community and pass on what they've learned to their children. Teach a young girl there about the importance of basic hygiene and it's a lesson that stays with her, leading both her and her children to be healthier overall. Teach a young girl that her thoughts are as important as a young boy's, and she starts to have more self confidence and self worth. Teach a young girl how to do math and she can manage her household's finances or even to start her own business.
The fact that education can have such an important and powerful effect in this part of the world does not mean health care is unimportant. Mortenson himself is a nurse by training, and health care comes up frequently in his book. One of the first women graduates of a Mortenson-built school goes on to study to become a doctor, and Mortenson at times buys medicine for villages where he is building a school. Without Mortenson's assistance as a nurse, one Pakistani woman mentioned in the book would have died in childbirth. But that is just the issue, while health care tends to help individuals, education can uplift a whole society. That is why, even though he understands the importance of medicine, Mortenson doesn't make it his life's work to build hospitals or set up medical training for rural villages. He chooses schools.
Ultimately, the message I took away from Three Cups of Tea is that health care can save a life, but only education can better the life of an entire population.
About the Winner: Danielle Goetter
My name is Danielle Goetter, and I am currently a junior at Georgetown University majoring in International Health, a program that combines public health and international development.
Though I am originally from a small, one-stoplight town in woodsy Connecticut, living in Washington, D.C. has opened up numerous opportunities for me. I am very interested in languages, and have been able to use study abroad and independent travel opportunities to hone my Spanish, Swahili and Bengali skills.
On campus, I serve as a Resident Assistant in Darnall Hall, an infamous freshman residence hall on our campus. I also teach Sunday School to high school students at a nearby parish, and babysit as often as possible for local families.
I wrote my essay about The Poisonwood Bible, given to me by my sister and ultimately a formative piece in my desire to live and work in underserved areas throughout the world.
I picked up “The Poisonwood Bible” as a distraction from the monotony of the long, summer days spent in my neighbors’ backyards, watching their small children dart in and out of oaken tree trunks and plastic playhouses. I was immediately drawn into the thick plot by the strong female voices of the Price women, imagining my own sisters and I narrating the many moves own family in a slow march to the east coast. Yet Kingsolver’s female cast followed their male figurehead on a far more exotic journey than our own, plunging deep into the heart of the African continent.
Until I read “The Poisonwood Bible”, Africa seemed distant and intangible. Our textbooks in school showed women wrapped in bright patterns and men with sharpened spears, their faces set stonily. African lifestyles and cultures were so minimally described and broadly interpreted that it seemed too unreal to comprehend. I dutifully sketched maps of the region and copied notes about colonialism, imposed borders and civil wars in my social studies classes, learning only so far as was necessary to ace my next exam.
Reading “The Poisonwood Bible” illuminated these history lessons in a new way. The culture clash of character Nathan Price’s die-hard Christianity with the long-seated traditions of tribal life demonstrated the personal, individual ways in which colonialism impacted the African continent and it’s many, varied people. The minister’s unrelenting efforts to impose his beliefs are contrasted by his wife and daughters’ development, and their immersion and eventual understanding of the local people. His efforts to convert the local tribe were both passionate and pathetic, nearly a how not to manual.
The plot, characters and themes of “The Poisonwood Bible” buzzed in my head during the last humid weeks of August, and I began my junior year of high school with an unrelenting desire to build on the lessons conveyed by author Barbara Kingsolver. Our school’s Model United Nations club had once possessed only a handful of members, but with my new found passion and a team of like-minded friends, we expanded the club exponentially. Our meetings provided an opportunity to discuss international relations, political issues abroad and social injustices that created poverty cycles. My first resolution in Model UN addressed malaria control, the disease which tearfully destroyed my favorite character in “The Poisonwood Bible”.
My positive experience in Model UN, and multiple re-readings of “The Poisonwood Bible”, was the launch-pad for my application to Georgetown University. Intrigued by the school’s unique and innovative International Health major, and drawn by its reputation of foreign service and a commitment social justice, I submitted my application. As a current junior in the International Health major, I am often challenged to develop hypothetical public health initiatives or policy changes for countries struggling without educational systems, sanitation infrastructure or the ability to manage an HIV epidemic. These projects are preparation for my future goal of international health consulting, with firms such as the Futures Group or multilateral organizations like UNAIDS.
Yet I truly believe my preparation for both my studies and my future work began in the first chapters of “The Poisonwood Bible”. Cultural sensitivity and adaptation to one’s surroundings are essential when designing and implementing a public health initiative in another country. I would take my cues from the young Price women, observing the social structure around me and working within it to provide my services. Taking my cue from Adah’s character, I have already begun to study Swahili – a dominate language in eastern Africa – in order to more fully engage with local people when implementing international health programs.
Each community has its own unique strengths and weaknesses, and an unwillingness to discover and address these will lead to diplomatic failure. I hope to continually apply the lessons learned by every member of the Price family to my future work on the African continent. “The Poisonwood Bible” was not only an intriguing novel, but it encouraged me to discover my own interests and develop an attitude of curiosity and open-mindedness when approaching a culture different than my own.