(L to R) Head of School David Sturdevant announces essay contest winners Essie Martin '17 (3rd place), Kate Laemmle '16 (2nd place), and Allison Wehrle (1st place), with English department chair Bryan Manahan.

(L to R) Head of School David Sturdevant announces essay contest winners Essie Martin ’17 (3rd place), Kate Laemmle ’16 (2nd place), and Allison Wehrle ’16 (1st place), with English department chair Bryan Manahan.

What matters to teens these days? A recent Lincoln Academy essay contest asked that very question, and Lincoln Academy students responded in their own words.

Sixteen students submitted essays to the contest, and the top three essays were selected by a panel of faculty last week. Those winning essays will each receive a cash prize. “This was the first time we have run a school-wide essay contest that was internally-sponsored,” said English Department Chair Bryan Manahan, who organized the judging process. “The idea came from the Head of School [David Sturdevant], and the students really responded. It was a total success! It was great to get kids writing about what matters.”

The panel of faculty readers, who scored essays anonymously on a six-point scale, included the entire English Department and members several other departments. “English teachers love to read essays that we are not actually grading,” said English teacher Christa Thorpe. “This was refreshing for me!”

The top three essays excerpted below received universally high scores from the judges. In third place was an essay by sophomore Essie Martin, who writes about the everyday joys of being present in each season.

“A year passes, ebbing on, cycling through like waves on a summer beach, or storms in a spring forest. Moments come and go, loved ones come in and out of connection. What matters in these ever changing times is not what you do, but how you feel about it. A wise person once told me: ‘if you are doing what you think matters, then you are changing the world.’ … what you love is the only thing that really matters in the end.”

In her second place essay Junior Kate Laemmle writes about the struggle for justice in the face of oppression.

“There are many things that matter to me, the first and foremost being the fight for justice and equality….I refuse to live in a society without questioning the foundation it is built upon…There are times that we are voiceless against inequality and acts of racism, sexism, homophobia, classism, and discrimination; not always by subconscious choice, but many times by unintentional bias or simply ignorance. We have to fight for equality, because though people should be born equal, they are not, with some people being born into wealth, power, and privilege, while others are born into poverty and discrimination.”

And in her winning essay, Junior Allison Wehrle writes about how essential the art of writing is to maintaining a civil society.

“If there is to be claimed that any one part of life must be maintained as time progresses, it is the art of writing. The necessity to not only record and comment on the past, but to also inspire the future, can only be calmed by writing, and whether the words written are sense or nonsense, poetic or prosaic, no matter the context or lack thereof, they will always inspire. Without a desire to write, society has no direction in which to follow, nor would they have a voice willing to point out where immorality has festered… Literature serves as a vessel for change. Its words can either strike fear into the public, or motivate them to raise their pitchfork in protest… Without writing we cannot express ourselves, and our culture will not survive to be studied and dissected for future generations to use and learn from; the only way to ensure we are never lacking in writing to read is to write the words ourselves.”

All of the student essays expressed idealism and possibility, and a sense that students feel empowered to not only discuss, but do things that matter. In the words of English teacher Mike Walsh, “It is heartening to see that students are picking up on the cultures that we value here at Lincoln Academy: so many of them wrote about kindness, giving, selflessness, and finding your passion. It seems like we are doing something right!”