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Life In The Past And Now Essay Contest

Grand Prize Winner: Vann Barnette, 10,
and grandfather Gerald Udell, 74, Iowa


My Grandpa is the type of guy who likes to give advice through stories.

He has done a lot of things such as getting a PhD and testifying in front of members of congress. Despite these accomplishments, the proudest moment of his life is when he made an old man cry.

Grandpa had just gotten off a train at Aiken, NC, with a friend he had made at boot camp. They were headed to their first military assignments. They were laughing when suddenly his friend got very quiet.

Grandpa asked, "What's wrong?"

His friend, pointing, replied, "I gotta go in that one and you in that one."

Two doors were labeled "Whites Only" and "Blacks Only."

After Grandpa had gone through the "Whites" door he discovered that the waiting area was really one big room. He missed sitting by his fellow soldier, so he crossed the yellow line dividing the room and sat down next to his friend.

It wasn't long before a white policeman was standing in the doorway. He beckoned Grandpa over, yelling about how he should be in the "Whites Only" section. But Grandpa said if there is no law against him sitting in the "Black" section, he wished to stay with his friend.

An elderly man came up to Grandpa after the policeman left and said, "I really appreciate what you just did."

Grandpa responded, "Sir, he's my friend."

Unexpectedly, tears started winding their way through the wrinkles in the older man's face.

"Sir, did I say something wrong?" inquired Grandpa.

The old man replied "Not in all my life has a white man called me sir."

"Sir, I'm just a kid." Grandpa said.

The man smiled broadly and responded, "No, son. Today you have become a man."

Find out more about the Legacy Project's annual Listen to a Life Essay Contest

Morgan Raun, 9, and grandmother Marie Raun, 72, Massachusetts

"We know you can do it and that's why we hired you," her boss said to her.

It came as a surprise to my grandmother when she was hired to take on the special role at the East Ottertail Telephone Company. My grandmother Marie is now 72; when she was 44, she was hired to start from scratch a telephone answering service. Back then, an answering service took calls for companies after hours because there were no answering machines.

My grandmother had no clue how to start the tough project and whether she would be able to handle it or not. She had to make plans on the operations, how they would work, and who she would hire.

Back then, men were against the idea of women in supervisor positions. She was the first female to be a telephone supervisor. She wasn't sure how the other men employees would treat her. In the spring, the company would go golfing while she had to work instead because it was "a men's only" golf outing. Luckily, she wasn't a big fan of golf anyway.

Although most of the men disrespected her because she was female, her boss was supportive and thought she could succeed. She was shocked to be given respect from her "male" boss. My Grandmother realized his belief in her made her believe in herself.

Not only was she able to succeed in building this answering service, but she worked there until she retired. After retirement, she hired a female to take her place. As for the "all male" golfing, it came to an end by a female worker when she stood her ground several years later.

My Grandmother has taught me that a little belief can go a long way.

Find out more about the Legacy Project's annual Listen to a Life Essay Contest

Nicholas Liu, 16, and grandmother Zhang Aizhen, 76, North Carolina

Morning, 1948. Yang Jiang, China. Frosty wind plays with my grandmother's pigtails as she watches her father and uncles plead with her older brother. "Don't go, Bing Qian. What about your family? Who knows what will happen if you go to that alien nation of America?" My grandmother thinks Bing Qian looks like the statement of authority, adorned in his strict black suit and tie; but, in this instance, he gives in to their father. She is happy Bing Qian doesn't take the scholarship. She was ten and too young to lose her brother.

Morning, 1949. "You can't go to school. I'm sorry," her principal says. "Please, stay home today." My grandmother never saw exactly what happened. All she knew was that her father had been executed and Bing Qian was leaving again. She was the landlord's eleven-year-old daughter, and he was the eldest son. "Don't worry beautiful," Bing Qian had said. "I'll send money and be home soon."

Morning, 1952. News arrives about Bing Qian's death. He had been caught and executed in a neighboring province. My grandmother thinks someone had seen her collecting money Bing Qian had sent from the post office. She stays in her room for a week before reemerging, silent.

Morning, 2010. At last, our two worlds have been united by her words. I listen to the story I never heard, never even dreamed of, my own adversity melting away with the rising sun. Facing a once hostile world, my grandmother sits serenely as frosty winds play with her hair, grayed by her love. I think she looks like the statement of authority, adorned in her casual attire; but, in this instance, she gives in to her tears. I hold her close. Her strength is my strength now. Her morning is my morning.

Find out more about the Legacy Project's annual Listen to a Life Essay Contest

Grand Prize Winner: Chloe Rust, 10,
and grandmother Nancy Judd Minor, 64, Oregon

Another Saturday night in 1957. My nana and her sister drag their alcoholic parents off barstools at the Golden Slipper Tavern and take them to the car. They are drunk, but the sisters know that even though their dad is angry now, he'll be much angrier if they aren't home by sundown to milk the cows. Always angry.

Despite this weekly ritual, Saturdays were special. This was the day they went into town. While their parents drank, Nana and her siblings met friends at the only theater, bought candy at the only drugstore, and borrowed books from the only library. Their magical day continued as they sat in the car outside the tavern, reading for hours and eating candy. Not until they had to fetch their drunken parents did the magical turn miserable. "And that is why," Nana tells me, "I vowed to never have alcohol until well into adulthood." She kept her vow and never drinks more than a sip of wine on special occasions. Nana has inspired me to do the same.

At seventeen, Nana told her dad she wanted to go to college. He yelled, "What the heck for? You're just gonna get married and have a buncha kids!" He gave her brothers each a cow to sell for college, but the girls got nothing. Still, Nana was determined to get an education. She paid for school by working long days in a shrimp factory and saving every penny. The poor farm girl became a beloved English teacher, and her love of books started inside that car parked outside the Golden Slipper Tavern.

300 words can never describe the hardships my Nana overcame. But as I sit here and ask her to describe her childhood in two words, she says: "magical and miserable."

Find out more about the Legacy Project's annual Listen to a Life Essay Contest

William Dittman Jr., 12,
and grandfather Angelo Santaniello, 85, Connecticut

Sometimes people don't realize the impact a small favor can have on a person's life. But a favor my grandfather did for someone he didn't know ended up having an impact on the lives of everyone in the United States.

The year was 1971, and the phone rang at my grandfather's home in New London, CT. It was from the president of the College of the Holy Cross, the school my grandfather graduated from. The president said there was a young man who needed a job as a law clerk, and nobody would hire him. He had been accepted to Yale Law School, but if he didn't have a job he couldn't attend. He was a young black man from Pin Point, Georgia. My grandfather called a friend who was a lawyer in New Haven and told him about the problem. His friend agreed to hire the young man. So while this man attended Yale Law School, he clerked for my grandfather's friend.

This man was United States Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas. He still maintains a friendship with my grandfather. A few years ago he even came to my grandfather's retirement party accompanied by Secret Service agents. I wrote a letter to him last summer for a school assignment about people we admired. He replied, "Your grandfather was very kind to me when I needed help. He is a wonderful man."

I am very proud of both men because my grandfather kindly helped Justice Thomas, and Justice Thomas never forgot my grandfather's willingness to help him. This is a great example of how much a small favor can impact a person's life. You never know who that person may be one day, and how they will impact the lives of others.

Find out more about the Legacy Project's annual Listen to a Life Essay Contest

Samantha Kelley, 17,
and grandmother Rosemary Richards, 64, Michigan

"Einstein was my hero. He wasn't the best student, but he was a brilliant man."

It was an understandable statement from someone born in the aftermath of the Second World War. In those days, society did not stress the importance of education. People never thought of a career or college – especially women.

My grandmother contradicts the norm. She believes you need to continue to learn until nothing is left of you. Life is not sequential blocks. Math, history, and science are all interdependent. Further, learning equals numerous connections. Learning never stops; even in your sleep, you process ideas. Each bit of knowledge crosses synapses to attain greatness.

One regret my grandmother has is not traveling overseas. While books are intriguing, travel brings new experiences. Outside the classroom, there is an entirely different side to education. One cannot experience things in class behind a small cramped desk. There is a world out there beyond the pictures in textbooks.

Although her traveling days are over, my grandmother transcends her environment by reading, especially her book of quotes. She uses them all the time in conversation, from Shakespeare to the presidents. Therefore, it is whether you regret your mistakes that counts.

I share the quality of persistence with my grandmother. As she stated, "I'm a 'get it done' kind of person. I always had a 'don't stop until you get it done' kind of stubbornness." This stubbornness has assured that I will continue my education, along with finding ways to fund it.

I too have a poster of Einstein to hang above my desk, motivating me to learn until there is nothing left of me.

Find out more about the Legacy Project's annual Listen to a Life Essay Contest

Grand Prize Winner: Kathy (Ziyue) Dai, 12,
and neighbor Helen Simms, 72, North Carolina

Human experience is a priceless treasure. With it, we can understand much more than what is right in front of us. Not appreciating these experiences is like casting a treasure trunk into the ocean, watching it sink into the murky depths.

When I rang Helen Marie Simms's doorbell, I was set for a tedious game of question and answer. That was how I felt before she shared her life with me. I left with a lifetime of experiences to learn from and share.

In a single afternoon, I visited a different era in history. It was a time when everything balanced on one word: segregation. This was never a part of my reality, but a dark cloud upon hers. To be born to a black family at the peak of segregation cast an uncompromising shadow upon Helen's childhood. "No one ever said life would be fair. You take whatever you get and live it to its fullest." This motto inspired her work as a civil rights activist.

For Helen, opportunity didn't come around often. If you were lucky enough to catch it, you used it to your benefit. If you overlooked it, you had to work hard to get it back. "I just wanted the opportunity." We take advantage of it now, but it was a blessing to Helen, one that lifted her towards her medical career dreams. Living in a generation of endless opportunities, I have never thought about all we take for granted.

A few words shaped her life: To be more than farmers. To be more than "that family of blacks." To contribute like any white person could. Those were her goals, her dreams, always bound from full potential by the cruel limits of color. Helen reached for them anyway.

Find out more about the Legacy Project's annual Listen to a Life Essay Contest

Alston Clark, 13, and great-granduncle Granville Coggs, 85, Maryland

When I was 11 years old, I watched a movie about the Tuskegee Airmen. As a result of that movie, I began to read books about them. One day I was telling my mom about my fascination with the Tuskegee Airmen and she told me about my great-granduncle Granville who is an original Tuskegee Airman.

A year passed and Uncle Granville came to stay with us for a few weeks. I began to ask him questions about his life. I learned more than just an amazing military story. I learned that it does not matter where one starts in life; however, it matters where one ends up.

Uncle Granville was born in Pine Bluff, Arkansas in 1925. As a child he had a bad case of asthma; in fact, he used to try to grab air with his hands and shove it in his mouth to help him breathe. After high school, he wanted to become an engineer and attend MIT; however, his test scores would not allow him. He decided to volunteer with the all-black combat unit of the US Army Air Corps and became a Tuskegee Airman.

When he began to fly a one man fighter plane, he remembered the noisy but reliable drone of that twin engine and the challenge of learning to operate such a complex and potentially lethal machine. Once he finished training, it was too late to enter the war because the war ended. Since the war was over, he was able to go to the University of Nebraska and to Harvard medical school on the GI Bill.

Uncle Granville's life is a living tribute to hard work and determination. The more we listen to stories like his, the more we will be inspired to press toward our goals.

Find out more about the Legacy Project's annual Listen to a Life Essay Contest

Jennifer Gersten, 15, and grandfriend Anna Tse, 57, New York

"Dreams?" Anna smiles. "What dreams? We couldn't afford to dream."

"I liked singing," she says of her hobbies growing up in Hong Kong. "I would sing all day long, watching singing competitions on television, and try to improve." She scoffs, however, at the idea of becoming a performer. "I never thought about impractical things," she says. "I just wanted a steady job, something with money." Anna's occupations in Hong Kong were obtained through a strong sense of practicality. After being forced by her mother to major in chemistry, Anna became an adequately paid science teacher.

She was a "timid girl," never thinking beyond her financial limits. "With no money, how can you support a dream?" she says. Financial security was key to survival, with any pleasure derived from work regarded as negligible. Adaptability sustained her through years of unfulfilling careers.

College, for many an impossibility, was nevertheless one of Anna's goals. Despite the slim odds of acceptance, Anna passed the entrance exam with flying colors. Even this, she says, was not a true dream – it was merely "something I had to do."

It was the imminent threat of communism that drove her to America, not the thought of a better life. Abandoning a prominent position as an immigration officer, Anna and her husband left Hong Kong following the Tiananmen Square massacre, seeking political stability in a new country.

Anna laughs when I mention success. "How can I be successful?" she says, grinning. "I am only a poor phone consultant!" She is silent for a moment. "But I think… you don't have to be successful. If you're satisfied with everything, then that's good enough." To Anna, success is a monetary evaluation, but happiness is not. And in the end, her happiness is all that matters.

Find out more about the Legacy Project's annual Listen to a Life Essay Contest

Grand Prize Winner: Duncan Boone, 11,
and grandmother Elizabeth Barone, 60, Indiana

When my grandma told me her first memory, being put in a closet for crying when she was scared her first day of kindergarten, it reminded me of Harry Potter. Both were locked in a closet, not for being bad, but for being misunderstood. There are many similarities between my grandma, Elizabeth Barone, and the character Harry Potter. She was a shy and insecure child and overcame great obstacles in her life, much like Harry.

My grandma was embarrassed to bring friends home, because she was very poor. She did not have a nice home and had an alcoholic father. Harry couldn't bring friends home either because of being different. My grandma remembers her best gift during her childhood as a new pair of shoes from the principal. Harry also had a principal watching out for him.

My grandma's role model was her grandmother. Her only vacations were with her on the lake for two weeks. Her grandmother always gave her a pack of Juicy Fruit gum. Even today when she chews Juicy Fruit gum she's reminded of those wonderful visits. Harry got his reprieve from home when he visited Ron's house where he was treated like he was special for a short time as well.

As an adult, my grandma met her Voldemort, breast cancer. She fought for her life and won. My grandma may not be a great wizard, but she is a hero to me. She overcame several obstacles in her life and worked very hard to succeed. She had to earn everything. No one looked out for her but her. She sets a goal and works until she accomplishes it. I just think that it's amazing how she was at the bottom when she was a kid, but now she is at the top.

Find out more about the Legacy Project's annual Listen to a Life Essay Contest

Saira Jafferjee, 14, and grandfriend Christine Farran, 50, Florida

"Saira, in life, you will always need three things: a funny bone, a wish bone, and a backbone," said my neighbor Mrs. Farran before I even started asking her any interview questions. I thought about this quote for a very long time, and came to the conclusion that this little quote sums up her life pretty well.

Mrs. Farran lived in Israel for most of her life. Of course, everyone knew Christine Farran. She was the talk of the town. This tiny little girl seemed to entertain and fascinate everyone she came in contact with. She was witty, always making people laugh through her pranks on neighbors, or her tiny schemes against someone in her never-ending number of family members. Mrs. Farran definitely has a funny bone.

Mrs. Farran was also a dreamer. She dreamt of moving to America and becoming successful, and having a huge family. It all seemed it was coming true when she met her soon-to-be husband, Emile. One thing led to another, they ended up getting married, and still are to this day. Lucky for her, Mr. Farran had the same dream as his new wife. Together they made their dream come true. Her wish bone didn't stop wishing there, though.

However, things can never be that simple. Everything in America seemed to be so different to them. They didn't speak fluent English, and had no idea where they were going when they explored this new, foreign place called Florida. Mrs. Farran was turned down for many jobs. The couple was barely able to make enough income on a month-to-month basis. Mrs. Farran definitely developed a backbone.

I admire Mrs. Farran. Sure, her life may seem pretty common. But, as she says, "I am 50 years young, and can't wait to grow more bones."

Find out more about the Legacy Project's annual Listen to a Life Essay Contest

Devin Raun, 11, and grandmother Beverly Robert, 69, Massachusetts

"When you go to school don't tell anyone that you're part Indian," Noko was told. These were words she often heard from her mother when my grandmother, Noko, was a child.

Noko's mom grew up on the White Earth Indian Reservation and went to a government school. Coming from Canada, she thought she was French and didn't realize she was part Chippewa Indian until moving to the reservation. In this time period, everyone was prejudiced and would tease Native Americans. Noko's mom thought it was best to keep their heritage a secret.

Noko didn't understand why she couldn't tell anyone about being Chippewa. Growing up with blonde hair, blue eyes, and light skin, she didn't look like a Native American. She decided she didn't want to listen to her mother. She believed people should like her for who she was. However, her twin sister, who was born looking Chippewa, was embarrassed and wanted to keep it a secret.

Noko told her friends her "secret" and they were unfazed. This gave her self-confidence. She realized she shouldn't be embarrassed and believed she could fulfill all of her dreams. She went to nursing school and later earned her degree as a registered nurse.

Taking pride in her heritage gave Noko self-esteem. In contrast, her sister is still embarrassed about her Native American heritage. My grandmother knew race and culture were something to be proud of, not something to be hidden as a source of shame. Today, people appreciate one another's diversity, and having a Native American heritage is a source of pride.

Does Noko sound like an odd name for a grandma? I'm proud to say it's short for Nokomis, which means grandma in Chippewa. It is now part of my heritage.

Find out more about the Legacy Project's annual Listen to a Life Essay Contest

Hillary Burdette-Sapp, 16,
and grandmother Patsy Burdette, 73, Georgia

When my grandmother, Pitty-Pat, was nine, she and her sister got into trouble and learned a profound truth all from the same Tide detergent contest.

My grandmother grew up on a small farm in West Tennessee with her family and her mother Mimi. The family was so poor they even made their own bathing suits. Although Mimi lacked book-learning, she was wise about life.

While Pitty-Pat and her family were poor, local tenant farmers were even poorer. One day, after visiting the neighbor's tenant farmer, Pitty-Pat and her sister burst into their kitchen at home snickering together. Mimi asked why they were laughing and they retold what the tenant farmer had just told them. They had been sitting in the neighbor's kitchen when the tenant farmer burst in, excited to report on her plan for winning a huge amount of money. She told them that she had heard on the radio about a contest where Tide would give $500 to the person who best completed the sentence: "I use Tide because…" The woman had come up with what she knew would be the winning slogan.

The girls could not believe the woman's gullibility; to think that she, an uneducated tenant farmer, could win a national contest. The girls laughed as they retold the story to Mimi.

Mimi spun around from the stove and looked at them hard before she spoke, her voice trembling: "You never laugh at someone's dreams. Everyone deserves the right to dream without being ridiculed. Never laugh at someone's dreams." The girls stood there frozen, speechless, and ashamed of their callous actions.

The simple wisdom of Mimi's words still echoes in my grandmother's life after all of these years. Sometimes all we have to hold on to is our dreams, our hopes for tomorrow.

Find out more about the Legacy Project's annual Listen to a Life Essay Contest

Grand Prize Winner: Eleanor Cawthon, 13,
and grandfriend Reed Hart, 69, Utah

Humans are not immortal. We are born, we grow, we learn, and we die. Too often, our knowledge dies with us. I had the opportunity to interview a man, record his life's story, and immortalize his experiences. One sunny Tuesday afternoon, I interviewed Reed Hart at the Tenth East Senior Center. Two hours later, I returned to school a different person. When I asked Mr. Hart what he would like to leave the world's young people, he replied, "A recording of this interview." This is his wish fulfilled.

Mr. Hart knows what broken dreams look like. As a child, his greatest goal was to finish school. After tenth grade, however, he dropped out to join the Navy and serve in Korea. He didn't see the fighting, but he did see its horrible aftermath. On a slow train to Seoul, he watched begging orphaned children. This was ultimate poverty to a degree unseen prior to his being in Korea. After this poignant experience, he made it his goal to fight poverty. Even secondhand, his vivid description mortified me. I now share his vision of a world without starving children.

Although he initially gave up school, he returned after the Korean War. At age thirty, he earned his GED. Throughout our time together, he stressed the importance of education. He heartily regrets his decision to drop out. His warnings put our school into perspective: school isn't to waste time; school is to prepare for life.

300 words cannot begin to describe the impact Mr. Hart has had on my life. Education has skyrocketed as a value of mine. Most importantly, I will strive to help the poor. We visited the senior center to model the bonding in Mitch Albom's Tuesdays with Morrie. That wasn't my experience. Mine was better.

Find out more about the Legacy Project's annual Listen to a Life Essay Contest

Louie Horning, 12, and grandmother
Magda Denburg-Zelovics, 83, Pennsylvania

A mother hugged her sobbing child as the train's floorboards rattled beneath their feet. In the overcrowded, windowless cattle car, she tried to soothe her trembling little girl. She held her close and repeated over and over, "Everything will be okay. When we get there, we will read the newspaper and know what is happening. Keep holding my hand. Remember, Magda, don't let go…"

The train lurched forward as it abruptly screeched to a stop. They had arrived in Auschwitz. The crematoriums emitted a deadly stench, which greeted the incoming trains. Obsidian clouds loomed devilishly above, cleverly concealing any light of day. Slowly the dark smoke spread skyward, like a soul floating gently to the heavens… to escape the madness.

Bubby and her mother exited the train and stood hand-in-hand as they watched the horror around them intensify. Babies were pried from their mothers' arms, and siblings were torn from each other's hands. The chaos grew louder with the shouting of silent prayers.

The terror of what was before her paralyzed my bubby's body and mind. At some point, my bubby's hand was forced from her mother's hand by one of the guards. To survive the separation, my bubby softly chanted over and over, "I will live, not die and break my parents' hearts." She never said goodbye to her mother, father, brother – all perished in the Holocaust.

My strong, positive, kind-hearted bubby, feels fortunate and grateful to have survived, yet the depth of sadness she feels for having lost her mother haunts me. I am most proud of my bubby's determination and will to survive, because it is through the children she had, and through her children's children, that Adolf and Sarah (her parents) have a history… a present… and a future. Their legacy survives through us.

The Listen to a Life Contest changes lives. Several months later, Louie wrote to us again…

Recently, my grandmother had a nasty fall and hit her head. Sadly, this has caused her to lose most of her memory. This has been especially difficult for my gandfather; he finds it hard to even talk to me about it. When he sees her now, she hardly, if at all, remembers him. I don't even know if she'll remember me when I visit, for she doesn't remember her own children when she sees them. Her memories of the Holocaust and her stories, more treasured to me than the world's largest gem, are fading. I cannot begin to acknowledge how thankful I am for having had the privilege of interviewing and getting closer to her as a person. Her life's story has changed me, and how thankful I am for that. And Bubby, in case you're reading this… we love you.

Everyone is a treasure chest,
Crafted by the families from which they came
And filled with their thoughts and ideas.
Each chest is different, no two are alike,
Even if they appear exactly the same on the outside.
Treasure chests can be overlaid in gold,
Fashioned from the finest of woods,
And covered in the loveliest of gems.
Sometimes the chest may appear to contain nothing at all.
Memory loss is terrible.
Treasure chests can be dull, rusted,
Beaten down, and destroyed.
And yet, hidden within, they may contain
Maps and stories as good as gold.
No matter how shabby,
Never would anyone look at a treasure chest
And abandon it without looking inside.
Why can't we do the same with people?

Find out more about the Legacy Project's annual Listen to a Life Essay Contest

The following is a guest blog post by Bryonna Head, who works in the Office of Communications at the Library of Congress and is a member of the 2016 festival planning committee.

Past “A Book That Shaped Me” contest winners, clockwise: Alexander Constantino, Myla Agyin, Sofie Dalton, Julian Jackson, II, Ananda Kalukin, Jessica Holloway.

Need a summer pick-me-up? How about a reminder that we are getting closer to the fun of the 16th annual National Book Festival on September 24, 2016 and are only days from the close of the 5th annual “A Book That Shaped Me” festival writing contest on July 18. The “A Book That Shaped Me” Summer Writing Contest encourages rising 5th and 6th graders to reflect on books that have made a personal impact on their lives. The contest originally launched with the DC Public Library system but has since expanded to include hundreds of libraries across Maryland, Virginia, Delaware, Pennsylvania and West Virginia.

Each year, contest finalists and winners are invited to participate in the awards ceremony, where grand-prize winners share their essays for family, friends and guests to enjoy. I reached out to grand-prize winners from the first three years and asked how the contest has impacted their lives. Some contest winners have begun to explore other interests, while some have continued to create through writing.

Below are some excerpts from their responses.

1. How has your life evolved since winning the “A Book That Shaped Me” contest?

Although I still have been joining essay contests, I have not participated more willingly as I have been pursuing my first love of joining Math and Science competitions—especially now that I got accepted into my dream high school. But if I find a great topic to write about, I do write and submit my entry. I have also sent some comments to the New York Times and wrote a Congressman congratulating him for his plans on [the] environment.

– Alexander Constantino, 2012 2nd Place Grand-Prize Winner, Chevy Chase Neighborhood Library in Washington, DC

Since that time, I have completed middle school and earned the Presidential Academic Award. I served as my school’s SGA 8th grade vice president and as a math tutor. I earned eight high school credits during middle school for courses that include Physics, Engineering Design, and Algebra II. I will be attending high school in the fall where I was accepted into the International Baccalaureate Magnet Program. In high school, I hope to make the junior varsity volleyball team and join the debate team.

– Jessica Holloway, 2013 2nd Place Grand Prize and Washington, D.C. Winner, Juanita E. Thorton/Shepard Park Library

2. Have you entered any other writing/reading contests since your participation in the program?

Yes! I won first place for my homeschool group for an essay about the Roman emperor Hadrian. I also participated in a bee essay contest sponsored by the Foundation for the Preservation of Honey Bees, and I won first place in the state.

– Ananda Kalukin, 2014 1st Place Grand-Prize & Virginia State Winner, Arlington Public Library – Central Library

No, I have not because I have been really busy concentrating on my schoolwork during the school year, also camps and football workouts during the summer. I am very involved in a STEM program this summer where I am learning how to build a drone. This involves a lot of reading, researching and science, but I like it a lot.

– Julian Jackson, II, 2013 3rd Place Grand-Prize & Delaware State Winner, Brandywine Hundred Library

3. Now that you are older, is there a current book that is helping you ‘shape’ your life as a teenager?

The Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell has changed the way I see the world. It shows that some people do have some advantages others don’t. The book explains that we can’t control what happens but we have to find our advantage to make ourselves outliers.

– Jessica Holloway, 2013 2nd Place Grand Prize and Washington, D.C. Winner, Juanita E. Thorton/Shepard Park Library

One book that has shaped me is The Outsiders. The book is about two different groups who have two totally different upbringings and are not the best of friends. They have to learn how to put their differences aside to get along. I can relate to this because the majority of the students in my school and I also have different upbringings, yet we have become great friends and have learned a lot from each other.

– Julian Jackson, II, 2013 3rd Place Grand-Prize & Delaware State Winner, Brandywine Hundred Library

4a. In your essay about Gifted Hands: The Ben Carson Story, you wrote “I know I was meant to work in health care and I am now more determined than ever. One day I would like to meet Dr. Ben Carson”. Would you still like to work in health care? Dr. Ben Carson made a switch from health care to politics. Have you ever thought about switching your career aspirations? If so, what was your motivation?

Yes, I am still determined to work in health care. As a matter of fact I am starting my first Summer Employment on 6/27/16 at a nursing home. My views have not changed as far as working in health care and healing of the sick. However I originally stated that I would like to be a Pathologist but since then I have also now considered working as a General Surgeon. I had the pleasure of meeting Dr. Ben Carson at one of his book signings in 2012, right after the contest. I have not considered working in politics at all. I had the opportunity to take a law class for a semester at school which did not motivate me to switch career paths but, did help me to better understand my civil rights and how the court system works.

– Myla Agyin, 2012 3rd Place Grand-Prize Winner, Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial Library in Washington, D.C.

4b. In your essay about Bird Songs Bible by Les Beletsky, you wrote, “maybe someday I can save some bird species from extinction.” Are you still working towards accomplishing that goal? Have you spotted any other interesting birds lately?

Yes. I am active in many citizen science/conservation organizations that are helping to save birds and habitats. Lately, I’ve seen a lot of rare birds, including Golden-winged Warblers, and Red Crossbills. My bird life list is now at exactly 200, double what it was when I wrote the essay.

– Ananda Kalukin, 2014 1st Place Grand-Prize & Virginia State Winner, Arlington Public Library – Central Library

5. Have you attended the National Book Festival since winning?

Thankfully, I am able to join the National Book Festival every year it happens (which is in September) just to be able to find out what is new in the realm of books.

– Alexander Constantino, 2012 2nd Place Grand-Prize Winner, Chevy Chase Neighborhood Library in Washington, DC

I have not attended the National Book Festival since 2013, but I want to go back this year.

– Sofie Dalton, 2013 1st Place Grand-Prize & Virginia State Winner, Arlington Public Library

6. What advice would you give to other students considering entering the “A Book That Shaped Me” contest?

After entering the contest it allowed me to reflect upon the books that I had read and how some of them impacted my life and decisions for my future. I would encourage all students to enter the contest and keep reading as much as possible. I am very proud of my accomplishment and look forward to many more.

– Myla Agyin, 2012 3rd Place Grand-Prize Winner, Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial Library in Washington, DC

My advice for students considering entering “A Book That Shaped Me” is not to worry about the competition or about winning. Just write from your heart about a book that you love, and as long as you’re proud of your work, then that’s what matters. Winning is great, but writing will stick with you forever.

– Sofie Dalton, 2013 1st Place Grand-Prize & Virginia State Winner, Arlington Public Library

Students are not too late to join this group of readers and writers by sharing their thoughts on a book that has shaped their life. The deadline for “A Book That Shaped Me” is Monday, July 18, 2016. Be sure to check participating library locations and contest rules on the official “A Book That Shaped Me” National Book Festival Summer Writing Contest website.

The 2018 Library of Congress National Book Festival, which is free for everyone, will be held at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center on Saturday, Sept. 1. The festival is made possible by the generosity of sponsors. You too can support the festival by making a gift now.

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