2020 Student Essay Winners

2020 Student Essay Contest Winners

CYD asked students what they thought about COVID-19, the shutdown, job loss, the protests after George Floyd’s death, and remote learning. Here is what the top three essayists told us.

Dayanna Quito

First-prize winner:
Dayanna Ceron Quito

Manhattan Comprehensive Night & Day High School

The Positive Side

Could you imagine being in quarantine for six months with your eight family members in one apartment? Well it happened to me. My name is Dayanna and I live with all my family, three younger siblings, my mom, my stepfather, and my grandparents. When New York shut down in March, me and my family were unemployed, which meant that there was an abundance of free time to spend with them. At the beginning we started spending our time baking some recipes from the internet, making funny videos, dancing, or painting crazy ideas. I clearly remember when me and my youngest sister, Camila, were trying to bake a brownie. We were really scared because the oven released a burning smell almost the same as the wood on fire but the brownie was actually very delicious. My grandmother, Susana, loved to cook Ecuadorian food like ceviche, a typical dish in my country that contains shrimps, onions, and tomatoes. We accompany it with crispy plantains and it tastes like glory.

I learned a couple new things about all my family members. For example, I never realized that my younger brother, Axel, likes to cook with us, or that my two sisters enjoy talking while I’m sleeping. Also I learned that even though we are family sometimes we couldn’t stand each other. Besides, remote learning made everything a little difficult, and more so when I have to share my room with two sisters and we all three have a meeting at the same time. It’s just so noisy! Everybody was looking for a quiet place to do their classes and it was almost impossible in my house but we figured out some ways to fit together, like wearing headphones to not make more noise or knocking on the doors before going into any room even when there are just three of them. Along the way many things happened outside like the death of George Floyd, which made me and my family feel powerless because even though we wanted to protest for justice we couldn’t go outside. There were some moments where the mood in my house got so tense and everybody was just sick of each other, but at the end of the day we were always at the table talking, laughing, and listening to my grandparents’ stories while drinking hot chocolate.

Finally, I realized that isolation gave the opportunity to analyze my goals. I decided about my dream career in college which is cinematography because I have loved cinema since watching Harry Potter when I was 12 years old, which is my favorite movie. I’m grateful that I went through all this with my family’s support because there were some people that did it by themselves. The virus changed everyone’s life at 360 degrees but it also made us stronger to confront the future, so let’s look at the positive side of the terrible things that can happen every day in this crazy world.

Second-prize winner:
Javaria Rehman
Manhattan Comprehensive Night & Day High School

Finding Peace in Chaos

My life changed drastically, and never would I have imagined that such isolated days were coming. On March 16, 2020, schools and colleges in NYC closed down, and at first I was glad that I didn’t have to go to school anymore. The stress from going to school suddenly disappeared and the heavy weight was quickly lifted off my shoulders. But those around me didn’t feel the same way. The anxiety in my house was at peak and all anyone would talk about was how the future seemed so uncertain.

The first two weeks I would oversleep and soon I realized that it was making me feel sluggish. I knew that I needed to make a routine and not be occupied with the coronavirus news. By April I would wake up at 9:00 am and I started to do five-minute yoga before I would begin my homework. This quarantine period has changed me to be more mindful of small things and really appreciate everything so much more. I learned that I enjoy online school a lot more than going to school. Also, I realized that I love yoga and it has opened up my mind even though I am inside all day. I now had time for drawing, but before I never had any time for it. I regret that I didn’t work out a different career path rather than just applying to college.

The way people of color are viewed with such hatred and violence made me question my core values of how I am too quick to judge. More now than ever I became more conscious of my actions, and I really question our society’s norms. I know you cannot change people’s strong beliefs about Blacks that have been enforced from centuries ago, but you can rise above the way you are treated. You don’t have to be confined by people that are racists and prevent you from living a peaceful life. Instead, you should use this as a fuel to push you forward towards your goals and know that you have a place in the world where you are truly accepted for who you are. I believe that people need to be properly educated about how who you are shouldn’t be judged by your skin color or your outer appearance. But you should be open to know people from their character and humor.

This ongoing experience of quarantine made me more mindful of what’s truly important in life. I have decided to take a gap year to work on myself before I go to college. I realized that we humans are capable of surviving such harsh conditions and you shouldn’t always think about the future, you should live in this very moment. You might think that you can’t survive this but years from now you would look back and you would have made it. Even though you might not think you can do this, you can and you will.

Third-prize winner:
Sneha Roy
The High School for Health Professions and Human Services

The Voyage to Restore Hope

With the launch of COVID-19 in mid-March, everyone appeared to describe it as unprecedented and unforeseen. Though undisputable, it indeed is something beyond comprehension. My encounter with COVID had negatively introduced despondence. As uneasy as I was with my health and education, time compelled me to believe that there was no better time to spend moments with loved ones.

Losing in my fights led me to relinquish parts of myself – more of my mind and primary intelligence. I craved to seek help for some mental support, but I was struck by a breeze of words telling me that I had not struggled enough to ask for any support. On a day before my birthday in May, my uncle passed away from COVID in my homeland, Bangladesh. He was as magnanimous and delicate as no other being I have seen. His passing beamed down darkness to my world again, and I was too young to understand how to cope with it. On the day of my 15th birthday, I recalled that day as an epoch of one of the turning points that cemented my vision for the time I have left to feel grateful to see the loved ones.

The same month, our country faced one of the worst inroads that have persisted since slavery. George Floyd’s death raised the question of this country’s soul. In the name of justice, young people like me amplified their volumes to echo the same words that our parents, uncles and aunts, and grandparents had echoed, for that one change that we continue to seek. I contributed my ways to support the BLM movement: protesting, keeping up with posts and stories on Instagram – bestowing the words of the famous Martin Luther King Jr., John Lewis, and other exceptional black leaders. Eminently, the voices of young people who refuse to dwell with race wars. With one commitment, we, as members of this nation who have come to emerge within the shadow of the BLM movement, cannot refuse to acknowledge the injustice that obliterated human rights after the tragedy of George Floyd.

By all counts, this fight was not straightforward to tackle. Journaling every moment with my parents, Zoom calls with my intimate friends, and with teachers whom I treat as best friends, became my coping mechanism for countless mental aches. Sharing a fight song through a lot of emotions refreshes the embodiment of the mind for some time or brings relief of acute stress for upcoming conditions. Alongside my manifested voyage, my parents stayed at my side. As much as I acknowledged the divine meanings of hope from my experiences, they fathomed the same more positively. Meetings with my teachers were effective to discuss these hardships and to feel rejuvenated and hopeful because no one knew more than them about the enormity of hardships. From CYD members, I learned that even in the most vulnerable situation, I can shine the flashlights on what I believe is important.