I found a contest on leadership from the ESU when I was in my senior year of high school. I always had high marks on my essays so I figured, “Why not enter a contest?” I was initially involved solely for the prize but the project evolved into something much more meaningful.

I started writing and it really connected me on a deeper level to my teachers and family. Through every edit, I saw this great essay take shape. I started to grab inspiration from everything. I was reading The Jungle at the time and the last pages talked about the intonation of the union leaders as they gave their speeches. I had never heard the word or even considered the power of tone in a message. I incorporated all the advice and inspiration from everything in my space.

It felt amazing creating something and getting great feedback on it. Emailing back and forth with my teachers and cousin also made the project feel big. It may have been a local writing contest, but for me it was like building a house. Taking a blank space and creating something that people wanted to live in, to take part of, to perfect its construction.

When I won, I was very excited. I did not care about the prize money as much anymore. I was validated in my abilities as a writer. In a behind-the-scenes meeting at the award ceremony, the lovely ladies told me they liked my story the best. True or not, that made me more confident and more hungry for another project.

Building off the momentum, I teamed up with the Drama Club and I served as head writer of an original play we called "F-That." The story was about a failing school (my school received an F grade in the city-wide report card) and the misconceptions of the students in it. The project helped provide credits for students who otherwise may not have graduated on time. Helping my fellow classmates, as well as seeing something go from paper to stage (at the Vineyard Theater, no less), was another awesome and validating experience set into motion from winning the ESU contest.

Honestly, whether I had won or lost, I had fallen in love with storytelling and essay writing. I thank the ESU for providing the opportunity and for giving me their stamp of approval. I would recommend anyone, who has the slightest interest in writing, embark on the journey of an ESU contest. Not only will you come out a better writer, you will create great relationships with your teachers and be armed with a skill that will benefit you and others for life.