Essay Contest Sidebar: The Power of Youth

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“Have the essays arrived yet?”

That is the question that resounds throughout the Maryknoll Sisters center as sisters anxiously await delivery of the mounds of essays submitted by students from across the country to the Maryknoll Student Essay Contest.

“I really enjoy what the kids have to say,” comment the sisters who judge the entries.

The essay contest was launched in 1989 with an ad in Maryknoll magazine and has continued annually ever since, with students from grades 6 through 12 vying for top honors by writing on topics chosen to stimulate reflection on Christian values.

These topics have ranged from dealing with bullying to responding to Jesus’ teachings on loving one’s enemies, forgiveness and caring for others. Students have learned from Pope Francis and his writings, including his encyclical Laudato Sí’, which generated essays on preserving the earth.

After reading 100 of this year’s essays, in which students explained how they share God’s love, Sister Nancy Connor, one of our 60 sister volunteers, said the hardest part was narrowing down her choices to four semifinalists. “My biggest problem was eliminating 96 of them,” she said. “I fell in love with each one and wanted to choose all!”

She went on to list what students said they are doing to make this a better world: praying for people who need help, knitting scarves for the homeless, helping make meals at soup kitchens, assisting students who have trouble in school, reaching out to a lonely classmate, standing up against bullying, giving a favorite toy or jacket to make a poor child happy and being more careful about conserving light and water.

Over the years the essay contest has grown immensely. It is now advertised on the Maryknoll Society’s website and social media. As a result, students of other faiths have participated along with students in Catholic schools.

It takes a lot of hours of reading and re-reading to select the best essays, but Maryknoll sisters and other volunteers who have been doing this see it as inspirational. At a time when the world can look mighty bleak, it is the power and energy of youth that give us hope.

For the past 10 years Sister Mary Ellen Manz has coordinated judging for the Maryknoll Student Essay Contest.

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About the author

Mary Ellen Manz, M.M.

Maryknoll Sister Mary Ellen Manz of Jamaica, New York, entered the Maryknoll Sisters Congregation in 1950 after having graduated from the Mary Louis Academy. She served in Chile, South Sudan and in different positions at the Maryknoll Sisters Center. She is also the Sisters’ liaison to Maryknoll Magazine and has written many articles about the Sisters for the publication.