Student Finalists 2015

“I Believe in Autism”

Andrea T. Bickford

I believe in autism. It’s a mental condition where communication and language fail. It makes abstract ideas such as playing with dolls or toy racecars difficult to understand, and building a relationship is hard and awkward. What most people consider a disability, I consider a blessing. I am not the one with autism. My seven year-old sister is.

At 3 years old, she was diagnosed with autism. It was hard to work with her to understand what bothered her. She would scream out of frustration at what seemed like nothing. Her anger sent many toys hurling through the air. I would dress her only to come back and find that she had stripped all of her clothes off. But I couldn’t understand any of it.

I wish that I could tell you that there was a turning point in the story where everything clicked in my head and I understood my sister. But there wasn’t. It took years of bonding to establish our relationship. I had to change my perspective and think outside of the box when it came to communicating. I connected with her the best through drawing and dancing. As she grew older, her ability to communicate improved and she was able to express herself. During one of our dance sessions, she told me something that would change me as a person. As I went to change the song on the radio, she stopped me and asked, “Why are you changing it?” I responded, “Because I don’t like this song.” She replied, “Sometimes, you just have to dance even if you don’t like the songs.”

A year ago, our grandfather became terminally ill. We all knew that this was going to be hard to explain to my sister, especially since she was so close to him. We did our best to prepare her for the inevitable. We expected that her reaction would be severe grief. We aren’t a very religious family. The day of my grandfather’s wake, we helped my sister through her first prayer. She wasn’t used to the idea of praying, but we struggled through it together as a family. As other family members arrived, they went over to the casket to say a prayer. My sister has always struggled to speak to adults that she isn’t familiar with. I don’t think that anything would have stopped her from sharing her love and compassion in a time of sorrow. She decided to walk up to the casket with each family member and friend, and help them pray. When their words escaped them and their sadness showed, she was there to help them grieve.

My sister’s autism was a struggle at first. I realize now that her autism wasn’t the problem, but I was. I couldn’t understand her because I wasn’t being creative enough. She has changed me by opening my eyes to the way she sees the world. She taught me that you shouldn’t let your fears dictate your ability to reach out and help others. You can’t change the things in your life the way you can change the radio. “Sometimes, you just have to dance even if you don’t like the songs.” The song is autism, and I’ve never danced to a sweeter melody.


“I Believe in Myself”

Tiana Golding

It is human nature to love the feeling of being loved. To have someone genuinely care about you. To inspire, support, cherish, and make you happy. People spend so much of their lives looking for the perfect someone to provide these feelings to them. However, it does not register to many on this quest that all along, they’ve been looking for themselves. If you do not believe in yourself, how can you expect anyone else to believe in you? It is useless to constantly rely on affirmation from others about what you can or cannot do because all in all, the world is yours and no one can strip that from you but you. I believe in myself. Not in the overly narcissistic manner that it may sound, but in a way in which everyone should, realizing the importance of self empowerment, self reliance and self love.

Just by believing in myself I can create a space that is nurturing for growth so that I may sustain my spirit and balance my energies. Self love stems from a strong belief in yourself and accepting who you are. This then enhances your ability to appreciate the little things in life and everything the world around you has to offer. The more open you are to the world, the more you will make of it and life is so much more enjoyable when you’re interested in living in it. Regular reflections on oneself is also necessary in loving the life you live. In the midst of self reflection, you learn about yourself, your likes, dislikes what inspires you, your hopes and your dreams. We all have big dreams and we all deserve to live a life that we love and let that love radiate.

We live in a society today that does not always emphasize individuality or self-empowerment. Just by being an African American female, I was brought into this world and automatically classified as a failure in the eyes of most. The heavy weight of social stigmatisms is enough to make anyone want to break down and not believe in themselves. And yes that may happen on this journey we call life, however, it is up to you to take a set back and make a come back from it. German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche once said, “The individual has always had to struggle to keep from being overwhelmed by the tribe. If you try it, you will be lonely often, and sometimes frightened. But no price is too high to pay for the privilege of owning yourself.” In Nietzsche’s work he often emphasizes the idea of “owning yourself.”  Being a member of the tribe can rob all of us of who we are by not only forcing us to follow the status quote but also forcing us to limit ourselves in fear of not pleasing others. Live for yourself, succeed for yourself, do what makes you happy. The world is YOURS and nobody can take that away from you but your fears, insecurities and state of mind. This one life we are granted is yours to own, live in and make the most of it for yourself.

Many individuals are frightened to challenge themselves because they are afraid of failure. However, it is better to try, fail, and learn than it is to not try, fail, and not learn to succeed. If you are able to bear in mind that failing is just another form of winning, you are creating a strong belief in yourself. So right now, start to believe in yourself, challenge yourself and get what you want and believe. Ziggy Marley said it best “Believe in yourself, cause that’s the place to start!”

Works Cited

Nietzsche, Friedrich Wilhelm, and Walter Arnold. Kaufmann. Beyond Good and Evil: Prelude to a Philosophy of the Future. New York: Vintage, 1989. Print.

“Ziggy Marley (Ft. Arthur & The Melody Makers) – Arthur Theme Song.” Genius. N.p., n.d. Web. 10 Aug. 2015. <;.


“I Believe in Teamwork”

Mary E. Brown

Players passing down the field to score the winning goal, students collaborating on a project to achieve a good grade, scientists working together to create a cure for a disease: teamwork is what allows for many of the greatest accomplishments in the world as we know it. I believe that without the presence of teamwork, many successes would not be achieved.

Our earliest experiences of teamwork involve playing with our friends as toddlers. Some of us built towers together, each person adding a block to increase the height. Some of us played in the doll house, each person playing a different member of a family to create a “real life” scenario. As our education progressed, we became very familiar with group work. Many despise group work in fear of being stuck with careless partners resulting in a bad grade or having to complete the project on their own. However I believe that group work, a form of teamwork, is essential to the formation of a well-rounded education.

The benefit to working together with peers is that you are able to discover the different perspectives of a certain topic. When peers share their unique aspects, they contribute to a complete idea. An example of group work leading to a rounded understanding would be a book discussion in an English class. Although each student reads the same book, each student may take away a different message. By sharing their individual interpretations, their peers are subjected to another point of view, allowing a different understanding to the same book. I believe this is what leads to an optimal education.

As we move on from school with our degrees, we will continue our practice of teamwork in a professional setting. Most careers involve collaborating with coworkers to get the best job done. Surgeons will help each other create surgical plans and work together in an operating room. Construction workers complete a job with the help of each worker’s individual skills. Writers publish a book with the help of editors. No matter what profession you choose, teamwork will be a component.

I believe that teamwork is essential for success. By working together, individuals can expand their minds while contributing to the expansion of the minds of others. Cooperation is a skill we are taught early and if we are wise, one we use often. Teamwork is in all aspects of life, it is unavoidable which I believe, is a benefit to all.