The Gift of Giving (Middle School) I always thought it was better to receive than to give, but when my family went to donate clothes and other items to the homeless shelter, I realized that it’s better to give than to receive. One year ago we went to the homeless shelter in Norwich and donated toys and clothes. It was my birthday and my parents wanted me to donate all of the clothing that I had outgrown as well as toys I no longer played with. I didn’t really mind because the new toys I got for my birthday were better, especially one in particular.
My favorite gift was the Lego Star War Figurine. I really enjoy building Legos, but my mom didn’t want me to start building it while we were in the car because she was worried I’d loose the pieces in the seats. I liked just looking at the box anyway, seeing the clone trooper on great, big, gray walker. It was a challenge not to open the box, but I was able to resist. However, I could picture myself at home building the walker and then finishing and marching around with the clone-riding walker pretending to slay the enemy. We finally got to the homeless shelter and it was a very sad sight to see. It was kind of dark and gloomy and at first I didn’t even see the people inside. However, when we went further inside, I saw some kids and adults moping around the dark room with frowns on their faces and nothing to do. The sight of their faces was saddening to me and made me feel very pitiful and then I decided to do something I thought I’d never do. I took hold of my Lego set and dropped it right into the donation bin. After I did that, my sadness turned into pride raising my spirits ten fold. I felt like a good and generous kid in this dark place. I felt like I was the sun shining on a bright summer day.
I’ll never forget the feeling of donating my toy to someone who needed it more than I did. As much as I wanted that Lego trooper, his command was needed elsewhere to make some other kid happy. Even though I would have liked to keep the toy, a boy or girl at a homeless shelter would enjoy it five times more than I would. Even of if I got another one, I still would donate it for the better cause and let another kid enjoy it because I already have what I need. I will keep donating things because it’s better to give than receive. No law of life is more important in my life than the gift of giving.
Moving to America and My Law of Life (Middle School Student)
In my life, I have had many ups and downs. Some minor, some major. One of the most suspenseful moments in my life was at seven years old. I never really had a motto or a quote that I lived by until the year of 2008 when things got really confusing. From that moment, I created my own Law of Life, which was: If I tried hard enough and not quit, I would succeed. Now, all I had to do was follow through with it. Here is the story that shaped my values and my beliefs.
It all started the summer of 2008 when my dad acquired a medical position at a nearby hospital. We had to move from the Republic of Georgia to Connecticut, USA. For me, that meant leaving all my family and friends behind, and most intimidatingly, learning a whole new language. I didn’t realize the impact of the transition at first. After all, I was only seven years-old. Nevertheless, the cold and unforgiving reality hit me soon enough. The summer went by in a blur until I was standing in a room full of small children with an extremely amiable second grade teacher. I had not the slightest idea what was going on around me. Kids were talking too fast, their lips moving too swiftly for me to comprehend. Soon enough, my mom kissed me goodbye and I was left alone, isolated. Long story short, I didn’t understand anything throughout the day. I didn’t make any friends, and I came home crying. That routine would continue for a few weeks, devastating me even more. I caught onto a few new words here and there, but the pace was too rapid for me to adapt to as quickly as I hoped I would. I was enrolled in the school’s ESL (English Second Language) program to try to help me learn, but it wasn’t much help. So, I had to turn to something else, but what?
My mom was the person who mainly helped me establish my Law of Life and aided me in getting out of the dark trench into which I felt thrown. After she witnessed that I wasn’t really moving forward in my education due to my lack of English skills, she decided to refer me to the library to learn from books instead. My mom made it clear it was my decision, not anybody else’s. That was it; that push was all that I needed to put me on the right track, and then, it was all up to me. I had the choice of either going with the flow and gradually establishing fluency in English (which would take years), or I could take things into my own hands, and try to teach myself. At first, I didn’t want to be reading books and memorizing words while other kids my age played outside with their friends, but, if I wanted to succeed, did I have much of a choice? So, my decision was made, and the library visit was scheduled. It would be the first of many. In the library, I would take out a myriad of Amelia Bedelia and Nate the Great books. The text was large and easy to read which was perfect for my situation. Soon, with my mom’s help, I was pronouncing and learning the meaning of completely new words and phrases.
The improvement was immediate. In just a matter of weeks, I was able to communicate on a beginner/intermediate level with my peers, and things finally started to look up. I didn’t stop there. I was determined to graduate from the ESL program and finally be like everyone else. (Fitting in was very important to me at that age). So, from that point on, my mom drove me to library every single day, because I would fly through up to six short stories in a day, and needed daily reinforcements. Then, I would proceed to finish the five-minute homework I had for the day and immerse myself in those short story books, gaining vocabulary, improving my spelling, and increasing my reading speed.
In addition to reading, I had discovered another way at which I could learn. One thing that reading didn’t give me was the instructions on how to pronounce the words I read. So, I turned to Disney Channel shows. It might be considered odd, but I would record one thirty-minute episode and replay it up to five times. That way, each time, I would understand a little bit more of the plot and what the characters were saying. I would basically memorize their whole conversations, how they pronounce their words, and in what context I could use them. This also made reading much easier for me since I didn’t have to spell out the words in my head. Rather, I could just remember how it was said and read it fluently. That was an immense step forward in my journey.
I graduated the ESL program in the middle of third grade. My teacher stated that I had the quickest time in finishing the program, a matter of only a year and a half. Other kids that I learned with stayed until 5th or maybe even 6th grade to finish. Of course, I wasn’t special. All the other kids there could have progressed at the same rate, but they chose another route.
In the end, I don’t really regret the time I spent sitting with my nose in a book or re-watching a show’s episode until I understood it completely. If I had not tried and tried again to succeed in learning English at the fastest speed possible, I would, most likely, not have accomplished many of the things I have today. In comparison to six years ago, I’m in a much better place. Even to this day, I still keep some of my old vocabulary/spelling tests from second grade, starting from the first, to the last. It is always fulfilling to see the improvement as well as the long way I have come. By believing in myself and in the idea that if I tried hard enough I would succeed, I slowly etched my Law of Life into everything I do. Many kids think that they aren’t smart, aren’t athletic, or just cannot possibly achieve what they want because they didn’t accomplish it on the first try. It’s not the number of tries that matters, but the eventual success, that is what really counts. From that day on, whenever I fail or fall short, I know that all I have to do is go beyond the boundaries and try harder, again and again. Only then, will I succeed.
My Law of Life can easily be applied to my life now and to my future. The idea itself is quite universal. Anyone can use it. As Jim Rohn, motivational speakers says, “If you really want something, you will find a way. If you don’t, you will find an excuse.” In my case, whenever I fail at an athletic event or don’t do well on a test, I always keep in mind that I won’t quit, but try once more with a new strategy for success until I get it.
Courage (Middle School) What is courage? Courage is the ability to be honest, having the quality of completeness and having strength to be an individual who stands up for what they believe in. In today’s society I am faced with many obstacles on a daily basis, yet because of courage, I can stay strong and keep reaching for the stars. Ernie Davis is one person who I have learned showed courage as a black man. He is a great role model whom I think about when I face obstacles. Ernest R. Davis was born on December, 14, 1939, in New Salem, Pennsylvania. His parents separated very shortly after his birth, and his father was killed in a car accident. He grew up in poverty living in a coal mining town, Uniontown, Pittsburg. He was raised by his grandparents. He soon carried the name Ernie. He looked up to Jackie Robinson, being one of the first black players to have been on an All-American team. He also looked up to his grandfather because of how wise he was. He encouraged Ernie to go above and beyond and work hard in school because he knew if he didn’t that Ernie would end up in the coal mining business like him. He knew he was going to get somewhere. His mom remarried in 1959 and since she was now able to support him, he moved in with her and his stepfather in Elmira, New York.
Ernie told a story of a day walking along a railroad with one of his friends collecting bottles. Since there were no video games at this time, this is what most boys did for pastime. After collecting bottles, they would usually trade them in and get simple things like candy. One day they ran into a group of white boys. This is was his first inter-racial interaction. They threatened Ernie and his friend to give them the bottles or they would face the consequences. Ernie counted three boys and then five other boys came out the bushes with bats. Ernie’s friend ran away and jumped in a box car of an on-coming train, but Ernie stayed. He stuttered, “No!” and when a boy reached for Ernie turned and ran faster than lightening with them chasing after him. It was in that moment, Ernie realized how fast he was and how much he loved to run. He also realized what he would do with his gift to run. He knew it was hard for blacks to get into college so he was going to use sports to get there. He played football, basketball, and baseball in high school and over 30 colleges recruited him including UCLA and Notre Dame for football. He chose to play football at Syracuse because it was only 90 miles away from home.
Ernie helped Syracuse advance to the 1960 National Championship in the Cotton Bowl where they played and defeated Texas in his senior year. Ernie scored two touch towns in that game. One on offense and one on defense when he ran an 86 yard interception after coming back in the game with a hamstring injury. The injury worsened every time he was tackled or punched purposely in the leg by the opposing team. The referees did nothing to stop the fouls. On the way to the game he saw young black boys working in fields. As his bus drove along he also saw a sign that said, “Go Ernie!” He saw a small number of black fans in the crowds at the game. He thought for a moment and remembered how during the West Virginia game, the players had to keep their helmets on at all times to protect them from flying bottles from the crowd. Just because their team looked different. There were only 3 black players on that team. His coach had told him not to cross the end zone because he was “colored” so he sent in someone else into the huddle when their team got close to the end zone. On one run, Ernie refused to run out-of-bounds and crossed the end zone to score a touchdown. Football wasn’t just a game anymore, but Ernie believed that he could make a difference in playing it. His exact words were, “It matters what you are playing for.” He wanted to create hope for those boys in the field, those people sitting in the bleachers, and the millions watching at home. He didn’t want any bottles to be thrown anymore. He was the first African American to win the Heisman trophy, which is awarded to the best college football player in the United States. He got the attention of President John F. Kennedy and got to meet him after the ceremony. He was the number one draft pick for the Cleveland Brown, which was his number one choice.
Sadly, Ernie never got to play professional football because he died, May, 18, 1963, of Leukemia. Ten thousand people attended the funeral where a telegram from John F. Kennedy was read. “He was an outstanding young man of great character who served and, my hope is, will continue to serve as an inspiration to young people of this country.” Over 40 years later he is still inspiring to people like me.
Today I write to say that Ernie Davis set a precedent for people to follow and that he makes it possible to believe I can achieve my goals in life. He faced much prejudice but that never stopped him and it shouldn’t stop me. He had strength and courage that helped him stay true to his integrity. In his honor the Cleveland Browns retired his #45 jersey.
Losing Yourself in Serving Others (High School Student) “The most sublime act is to set another before you.” Spoken by English poet William Blake, this quote reveals what I believe is a very important – if not the most important – thing a person can do. Putting others first involves the laying aside of our own interests and then willingly doing something for another person's benefit. This task, however, is not an easy one to perform; human nature itself has the tendency to focus on self-related matters. If we are to put others before ourselves, then we must break away from that egotistical way of thinking and consider the value of other people and their lives. Furthermore, as I begin to put others before my own interests, I feel my life has a meaningful purpose and direction.
There was an article written by Anne Keegan, a reporter for the Chicago Tribune Magazine, about a man named George. He had no home, and only owned the clothes he wore. He often stayed at the YMCA, which gave him a place to sleep at night. Sometimes on a cold morning, he would go to the warm police station and sit there for shelter from the freezing temperatures. There, he became friends with some police officers, who would occasionally buy a hot coffee for George. George also received a free breakfast every morning from Billy, a local restaurant owner. As the Christmas season approached, the police officers decided they would invite George to spend Christmas Day with them and their families. In addition to this, they surprised George with some presents – something which greatly astounded him. As George unwrapped each present, he could hardly believe that they were his to keep forever. As the officers gave George a ride home to the YMCA after the Christmas get-together, George requested that they stopped by Billy's diner. When the group reached Billy's diner, George took the precious, rewrapped gifts he received and walked into the diner. Upon greeting Billy, George earnestly said: “You've always been real good to me, Billy. Now I can be good to you. Merry Christmas!” As he said this, he gave all of his gifts to Billy.
This true story is simply remarkable for obvious reasons. To know that a man who possessed next to nothing gave away all of his priceless presents to another person – one who was not in need – really does reveal a truth that transcends material objects, success, and earthly fame. George, out of his poverty, gave away all his gifts, which were something he probably had never received. This is a fantastic example of putting others before self-centered interests. To me, a billionaire who halfheartedly gives thousands of dollars to charity cannot compare to the humble and generous sacrifice that George made. The generosity that was showed to him prompted him to be giving to another. This moving story is such an inspiration to me because I easily take what I have for granted, and tend to focus on the things I do not have. Hearing real life stories such as this one reminds me that living for myself is futile; it makes my life meaningless and leaves me feeling void. When I begin to shift my focus from myself to others, I get a feeling that is hard to describe with words. I realize that reaching out to others fills the void in my being that is present when I am just living for myself.
Although I do not have a phenomenal or memorable example that I can share, I do see the ramifications in my everyday life of living for myself versus living to serve others. As I reflect of the topic of putting others first, I find that selfless service can be put into practice in our normal daily lives. For instance, when I knew my mother had a busy day and developed a headache that would not leave her, I took the initiative of washing the dishes. This is certainly nothing to brag about; doing the dishes is not something involving great sacrifice. Yet after I did this simple, menial job, I felt that I was helping someone who needed it. I felt that I was not vainly living for myself; having compassion on another person actually made me feel more fulfilled. However, when I focus solely on making my own life better – by buying more fashionable clothes, spending more time with my group of friends rather than talking to someone who was lonely at school, or focusing on my desires while being blind to the needs and hurts of others – I end up having this hollow void in me that no material or cosmopolitan element can satisfy. Life then feels pointless, vacant, and insubstantial. The more I try to fill this void with material things, the more the size and intensity of this void increases. There is an example of people trying to fill the void they feel that I see almost every day. Take the typical American teenage girl. Most girls these days, myself included, are not pleased with certain aspects of their outward appearance; perhaps it is their weight, stature, or eye color. So, some spend a lot of money on high-end makeup products, fake eyelashes, or other things that help to enhance their looks. Yet, even after using all these products, many girls are still left feeling not good enough, and feel they could improve even more, which causes them to spend more time and energy on making themselves look better. However, I also see girls who are not so preoccupied with material things but invest their energy in developing friendships with others and helping those in need. These are the people who seem much more content and at peace with themselves.
Something that continues to baffle me is the selflessness of those who live in poverty. There have been many scientific studies that revealed that poor people give more than the people who are well off. How can this be? It makes no logical sense that a person who has almost nothing can cheerfully give to another person who is just as much in need as he or she is. Yet, this happens. It is humorous to think of how most rich people having many of their desires met are not truly satisfied and happy, but a person in poverty, having practically none of their basic needs met, can humbly give and still be content and joyful. There must be an answer to this: putting another person before self-centered desires is a powerful action that not only benefits the one who receives, but also gives a sense of wellbeing and fulfillment to the one who gives. Focusing on the needs of others first does not have to involve grandiose sacrifices. It is something that can be done in everyday life, and is something that, I believe, should be done daily. Anyone can serve. Service can be as little as washing the dishes, tutoring someone who needs help, or sitting next to someone who is alone. There is something indescribable about lowering oneself and exalting another person. It greatly helps the person in need, and also leaves the giver with a feeling of satisfaction. As Martin Luther King Jr. wisely said: “Everybody can be great...because anybody can serve. You don't have to have a college degree to serve. You don't have to make your subject and verb agree to serve. You only need a heart full of grace. A soul generated by love.”