The 2017-2018 Essay Contest Winners:
Middle School and High School

Middle School Division

First Place

Souren Moradi
Grade 8
Bloomfield Hills, Michigan

The Better Sides of Our Media

We are seeking to improve ourselves from our past ways, we as a nation--as a whole. We as a nation are striving to pursue a better path; it can be shown in everyday objects, it can be represented by the better sides of our media. We have improved from the time where back when doing correct things was a deed, and when the seeing through the right from the wrong was opaque. My country that I'm representing, America, is not incorrigible. In our popular media, it could be accurately conveyed through various examples.

One such example, an epitome of our defiance to prejudice, could be the very recently released song: "Untouchable." This song, released by Eminem, a very prevalent rapper in pop culture as of recently, addresses the different point of views of a racist white person, and an African American person. By expressing the different perspectives, he literally lives through what the opposing sides live through, giving the audience insight to what to do and how to treat anybody and everybody and how to end the intentional or even subliminal racism.

Switching vectors to videogames, "Undertale" would have to be the best delegate to represent. Although at a first glance it is no way whatsoever connected with our world, it rallies for equality. It hosts LGBTQ characters, it promotes peace, and most importantly: it accepts differences. "Undertale" offers mercying and sparing as an option to enemies, from bosses to normal enemies, and gives you an option to befriend them. The thing that sticks out here is that all other characters are monsters, and you are human. The monsters have a grudge against the humans for banishing the monsters, yet the human, who is being readily attacked by the monsters, learns that violence never brings a good outcome, and becomes companions to all of them. You do have an option to kill the monsters to gain lv and exp, commonly used in video games to represent levels and experience points, but in this game, it shocks you to find out that it means Levels of Violence and Execution Points. Any harm is thus highly discouraged. This game sends subliminal messages to the players that this is what you should be doing in real life: accepting differences and spreading peace.

In the realm of T.V. and streaming services, late night show hosts such as Stephen Colbert, Jimmy Fallon, and Jimmy Kimmel and many more, are permeating news stories and detesting any rash acts of harmfulness such as terror attacks, laws and policies, and prejudice. They are always pushing out messages of kindness in rough times, including natural disasters, and displays of hate speech. The entire late show host community unites under circumstances/situations of prejudice, and discourage us from doing any such wrongdoings as such mentioned.

There are many podcasts dedicated to the news, and some directly dedicated to anti-hate, anti-fascist, anti-prejudice, and antiracism. These podcasts can sometimes just portray the horrific display that is racism, and inform us on some hate events, this alone would highly discourage the possession of any bias in people, and realization and revaluation if they do have it towards people. Some shows go as far as to communicate their anti-hate message.

My last media package I want to present are the news, science, and vlogging YouTubers. Some examples (in the order presented above) would be Vox, Crash Course, and Casey Neistat, but there are many more. These YouTubers either educate us on racism, or fight against it directly. Being educated on that topic could spark realization, reformation, or just simply acquisition of knowledge. The fighting against racism or prejudice or stereotypes is as head-on as it sounds, persuading the viewers to make better choices, or encouraging them to keep on doing good.

In short, these aspects of our media fight against generalizing stereotypes that label people, aggressive racism and bigotry, harming biases, and overall prejudice in America.

Second Place

Lindsey Zousmer
Grade 8
Bloomfield Hills, Michigan

Youth Culture in the Media

I am just a thirteen year old girl. I may seem average, but I'm not. I may appear to be typical, but you would be surprised. I may act like I'm what society generally classifies as an "average teenager," but I know there is no one in the world like me. And, most importantly, I know I am just as capable as anyone to make a difference in this world.

Our culture, I believe, can be accurately represented by how people express themselves, and the media is a powerful tool that allows for and encourages self-expression. Songs on the radio, social media platforms, movies, reality shows and websites are all influential platforms that represent our culture in today's world. The five platforms of media that I picked to represent today's culture are "Fight Song," Wonder, Twitter, Survivor, and Wikipedia.

"Fight Song," by Rachel Platten, inspires kids to have confidence and courage. Rachel Platten's lyrics teach us that we can overcome any obstacle, and that we choose our own battles. This is one of many songs that represent people's capability to make a difference in the world and to never give up.

Many famous and influential people use Twitter to express their ideas. Twitter allows for everyone's voice to be heard. A common misconception is that our generation is constantly looking at their phones and misses out on the basic beauty of the universe. Although this may be true at times, I believe Twitter is mostly used as an appropriate source of self-expression in order to state powerful opinions. This is exactly what leaders of this generation are encouraging children not to fear. Twitter can be misused, but it is an opportunity for people all around the world to express themselves through technology.

Auggie Pullman may be different, but he doesn't deserve to be mistreated. There is a girl at my school who has special needs, and every day she sits alone at lunch, until I join her. The other day she was sobbing at the lunch table, and some girls were sitting near her. They did not glance, ask, or even smile at her. It was as if she was invisible. Later that day, I noticed a boy with a learning disability sitting in the lounge alone. I had a great conversation with him. What devastated me though, was the dozens of kids that walked by and ignored him. I didn't choose the story Wonder, though, because of the bullies, I picked it because we need to learn from the kids like Summer and Jack Will, who, in the end become Auggie's best friends, the kids who accept him, and were inspired by his courage.

Survivor is a reality television show that tests the participants' skills to the absolute limit! They fight for their lives for 39 days to win a million dollars. This reality show makes it seem like we, as a culture, are desperate to do anything for money. I think, however, that this show represents our culture appropriately because it shows both positive and negative relationships, and how we interact when our lives our at risk. The contestants' skills are tested, but they ultimately can maintain positive relationships with each other, despite the intense competition. This is similar to everyday life, when we may experience frustration with others, but are able to bring out the best in each other.

Wikipedia exposes us to thousands of topics and facts. Each day, it grows, its content expands. Although Wikipedia may just seem like a source to help write an essay, behind the screen, I think it symbolizes much more. We receive news within seconds. Because of Wikipedia, and other search engines, people are exposed to more information than ever before.

The media has such a powerful influence on our culture. Songs like "Fight Song" inspire confidence and courage. We are able to freely express ourselves through social media, like Twitter, at anytime. The story of Wonder teaches us that everyone deserves a fair chance, and that kindness makes the world a better place. Survivor demonstrates relationships and strength among people like us. Websites like Wikipedia bring information to our fingertips, making it easy to get the facts quickly, and make jobs and tasks much more efficient.

Our culture is diverse. It's amazing, it's inspiring, and it can and will be improved. But with our exposure to so much information and our drive to make this world a better place, together, we can be the generation, and we will be.

Third Place

Mallory Doyle
Grade 8
Shelton, Connecticut

The Voice of the American Youth

Teenagers across the globe and even in the same country can experience many different types of family units, lifestyles, religions or income levels and it could be challenging to categorize them.

However, to collectively capture the youth in America, there are underlying similarities that are evident in the way we express ourselves and interact with others in our daily lives. We look for friendship, acceptance, care, relaxation and ways to express individuality.

I would select the following items to showcase the youth in America that fits those categories--Instagram, Spotify, Netflix, GoFundMe and YouTube. They are all easily accessible by phone or computer and showcase how many of the youth today in the United States spend their free time.

Instagram is an app on a smartphone that allows you to post pictures or videos to share with your friends. They can respond by clicking on a heart to "like" your posting or add a few words of their own. It is a quick and easy way to reach a lot of friends at once, let them know what you like and keep in contact.

Spotify can be found as an app on your smart phone or other electronic devices such as a Kindle, laptop or iPad , that allows you to listen to a number of songs for free. You can pick your favorites or look for new artists from any part of the world.

Netflix can also be found as an app on your smartphone or mobile device and for a monthly fee, gives you access to movies, television shows or specials. This is an on demand system of watching what you like without commercials. It is a great way to watch a movie with your friends or family or binge watch a show you like.

GoFundMe is a website that you can use to post your story and photos to get donations for your cause. Because they give you links to post on different media sites, your story be shared with anyone. This group effort can help both friends and family and strangers with a need for help.

YouTube is a video website that allows you to either post or view videos. Almost anything can be posted, musicians playing music, makeup videos, animals or even a little kid telling jokes. This is a quick and easy and free way to get your talents across to a large audience quickly.

It may appear to others outside of the country, that most Americans, especially the youth, rely heavily on social media and electronic devices to communicate and manage their lives. By looking at these items it is easy to say that we are removed from personal interaction, self-centered and vain. Cell phones and electronic devices can also act as a calendar, calculator, camera, alarm or video camera. In a touch of a button, we can communicate with those around the world or even in the room next to us without ever saying a word. The downfall is that children are spending less time outdoors, playing or getting involved in group activities.

However, there are many important features of these items in my package that are wonderful and express who the youth in America really are. We are good friends, someone well rounded in music, a person who cares for another and wants to help, someone that can showcase a unique talent or simply a kid that just wants to relax with an old movie or show. By embracing the technology and media we have available, it can lead to positive results so we are not all vain and looking for the next best pose to post or are completely unaware of others. The same things that can bring out the worst in us, can also bring out the best. We can connect and reach out to others, be supportive and embrace differences, meet new people and learn something new.

Now more than ever, youths in American have a voice that can be heard and shared and can bring a positive change in society or to send a message to adults behaving badly. We can reach across many states, countries and social cliques to be better people and hopefully inspire other youths that are around and live all over the world.

High School Division

First Place

Emma Claire Pulley
Grade 12
Riverton, Utah

Prejudice in the Media

Most of our personal opinions are built with a foundation of what we read within today's media. I personally have had a lot of different prejudices based upon information that I found in the media. It is extremely intelligent to build our own opinions based on the opinions of others, because, as humans, we learn from examples around us, as well as from our own personal experiences.

On the other side of this method, however, we look at a very limited amount of information about a controversial topic and we form our opinions based on that. If you were to walk up to someone completely random on the street and ask what they thought about a seriously controversial issue, they would most likely have extremely strong feelings about it, whether it be for or against whatever topic it may be. The problem with media is, if you were to ask why they felt the way they do, they would most likely only have a few points for or against the topic, and they might not really understand why they feel the way they do. There are a lot of topics in which we build our own opinions based on the biased and limited information that we have been given. I feel as though using other people's biases could be extremely beneficial, but only if we were to look at the different biases of all sides of the story. People today are afraid to disagree with others, so we depend on other people to back us up.

I personally find it immensely eye-opening to look at the opinions of multiple different parties, only so that I can fully understand what is actually going on. There is no such thing as an unbiased person. Whether it be by their own bias or by the bias of someone else, everyone has an opinion that is strongly attached to one side of an issue. A lot of times we tend to cling to the side of the issue by which our bias belong. I personally like to take into account the bias from all sides and build my beliefs upon that. It's very difficult to find out what is actually happening without going to the media, and I think that's a huge problem. We are all very dependent on the media to form opinions. It is an extremely good thing that we have the ability to decide for ourselves, but a lot of times while we are trying to decide, we end up getting robbed of the full picture. You really have to get involved in a problem or talk to someone that is involved in order to learn what it's really like.

For example: racism. I have a cousin who is a Caucasian woman and is married to a Hispanic man, and they have a beautiful little baby girl togther. I have been present when my cousin has received insults towards her personal character, simply because she is married to a Hispanic man. She has been called a "race traitor" for simply caring for someone who has a different skin color or racial background then herself. I look up to this woman so much, because she has been through so much to get to this point of happiness, where she now deals with racism on such a daily basis that she has had to learn to shut it out or ignore it.

Part of the problem is the fact that the media portrays many things as negative. We are constantly getting fed information about how wrong it is for mixed racial couples to be together or for gay and lesbian couples to be together, and as we are fed this information, we don't really digest it. We kind of just accept it as our thoughts and that's the end of it. We don't really question anything because we're only receiving one side of the story.

No one should ever have to deal with prejudice and I have tried my hardest to fight it. The fact that you are black and I am white does not mean that we can't get along. There is always going to be a little bit of misunderstanding because every person goes through different experiences in life that form who they are, but we should use those experiences to build our own beliefs about situations where we wouldn't normally have the opportunity to do so. We should try to relate to other people and understand that they've been through something else that we haven't and allow them to inform us about it. We should be able to communicate how that experience changed us and how we formed our personalities to fit around that experience, and we should be able to bounce ideas off of each other.

That doesn't only pertain to people that are all that different. Two people could go through completely different lives, one living in poverty and another living in an upper class home, and those two people could have some of the same experiences. Everyone takes everything that happens to them differently, and everyone forms around these experiences. We should be more open to understanding other people. No one should ever think they are better than you, simply because they grew up in a different way. People all go through their own experiences. There's no reason why we shouldn't understand that and use it.

I've changed my behavior and the way that I listen to other people, and I've stopped putting up a wall in my mind that blocks anyone's opinion that is different from mine. I really love to listen to other people and relate to them in ways that I didn't even know I could. It's extremely important to have that connection with people if you really want to understand the way the world works. Prejudice is a huge problem and the media definitely intensifies it, but together, we can definitely grow above it.