That our students have much to say of great meaning comes as no surprise. What’s astonishing is that they can write eloquent and incisive personal essays, under supervision, in response to quotations by historically important feminist women and men.
At the Awards Ceremony, students who have won prizes in the annual Women’s History Month Essay Contest, read their winning essays. This year we had almost 40 contestants, which led to competitive decisions by our contest judges: the Writing Fellows and Professor Kris Burrell. Awards are made in categories reflecting each student’s current level of writing instruction. We had seven winners, with ties in two categories.
Author Sulma Arzu Brown, guest speaker at the celebration, found the students’ essays riveting. Ms. Arzu-Brown noted that the interesting quotations offered, from which the students select one, surely elicit their most heartfelt and best writing. All who attended the March 24th Awards Ceremony can attest to the power of the winners’ words as well as the boost in self-confidence that accompanies this prize and public recognition of their achievement.
Introducing themselves, several winners mentioned the importance of this award to their sense of themselves as writers. Jenifer Vivar, a second place winner, told us: “I did not know I was a good writer until some of my professors mentioned that to me. I’m so excited to see that is true, and [winning this contest] really encourages me to keep writing and exploring things I did not know I could do.” First place winner Diana Guerrier shared with the audience that participating in the Women’s History Month Essay Contest reminded her of how much she loved “writing as a little girl”.
What contest organizers, Prof. Jerilyn Fisher and Prof. Andrea Fabrizio, find most rewarding and memorable about each year’s competition is that the opportunity to participate is tremendously empowering. When students express in writing their reflections on historically significant quotations about gender, they take ownership of their experiences with gender in their families, schools, and workplaces. In many ways their essays become much more than a chance for extra credit or a prize; importantly, through writing personal stories in response to historical quotations, each participant emerges as more self-aware, better poised to recognize and challenge gender injustice as it impacts their own lives and the world at large.
Students’ friends and families were in attendance. Tears were shed. Cameras flashed. Applause was resounding. At the end of the ceremony, one little girl posed for a picture holding her mother’s framed award certificate. This is the true prize of the Adrienne Rich Women’s History Month Essay Contest: our winners become inspiring role models for the next generation-right before our eyes.