Reflections on Our Summer Reading Contest and Our Final Week of Winners

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Reflections on Our Summer Reading Contest and Our Final Week of Winners

Annissa Hambouz, an educator and longtime contributor to The Learning Network who has judged this contest for many years, noted admirable qualities in this year’s participants:

As writers, they often display a nuanced understanding of politics and global events and offer solid critical takes on the news and opinion pieces themselves. However, it is the thoughtful self-awareness, empathy and concern for our future reflected in these essays that reveal just how well equipped young people are to face the challenges before us. Older generations have much to learn from these future leaders.

Several judges said that the best essays did not just simply summarize the pieces they read, watched or listened to, but made personal connections to them. Ken Paul, an editor at The Times, explained:

The entries that impressed me most tended to be those that reflected personal engagement with the articles, not just as readers but also as students uncertain about schools’ reopening, or as victims of bullying, or as would-be hajjis, or as grieving children or grandchildren.

Emma Weber, a former participant in our annual Summer Reading Contest, shared this perspective on the writing she read:

I was on the other side of the screen just a few years back in 2017, when I got a runner-up and a few honorable mention placements, plus a whole lot of experience uncovering my voice and applying it to the world around me. Having read through hundreds of entries, I am blown away by how well this year’s participants are doing just that. This summer has been such a pivotal one in terms of social justice and change, and it is brilliant to see so many students from across the world chipping in what they think such change ought to look like.

And she offered a piece of advice:

I know first hand that the Summer Reading Contest has the ability to change the way one engages in the news — I went from passively reading to actively thinking and questioning. The more you reflect on what is going on in the world and what interests you about it, the more you will understand your place within it. I urge all those who enjoyed participating this summer to continue reading, reflecting and writing.

If you liked participating in this contest, check back in June of 2021, since it’ll be back then for a 12th year. In the meantime, we invite you to participate in our many other contests for teenagers, and to respond to our daily writing prompts anytime you like.

And now, our finalists for this week:

Ava Isabella Kendra Haddock, 16, from Carlsbad High School in Carlsbad, Calif., chose an article headlined “The Nation Wanted to Eat Out Again. Everyone Has Paid the Price” and wrote:

In June, I joined the official work force as a busser. As adults with health fears leave, students like me fill jobs as everything from lifeguards to child-care providers. Poetically, you could argue that student employees valiantly enforce regulations with an often hostile and polarized public, doing the work necessary to keep the community running. You could also say that we selfishly enable a broken system, and put our families at risk. As Covid-19 hot spots emerge in restaurants like mine, they expose the uncomfortable moral gray area of choosing to work.

In comparison to more essential jobs, student jobs seem frivolous. We are the most expendable workers in the country, but also the people at the frontline of a nationwide battle. As I clean up birthday dinners and vaguely illegal live-music nights, I want to quit. Most customers, and even my boss, act with little regard to public safety. Trying to enforce regulations feels like trying to stop a tidal wave of disregard with a bucket.

But the false facade of safety enforced by laughing bartenders and smiling customers is alluring. Fears of financial insecurity also smooth over most remaining health concerns. Besides, if I quit, there will be little impact. I’m easily replaceable.

Every time I work, I choose to roll the dice. When I talk about the summer of 2020, I’ll say I marched, and I’ll say I worked. I don’t know if I’ll be proud.

Adora on “Final Meals at Closing Restaurants: ‘I Will Dream of Those Dumplings’

Dalya on “The Doctor From Nazi Germany and the Search for Life on Mars

Esther on “We All Speak a Language That Will Go Extinct

Fiona on “Cooking Through a Crisis With Grandma, Virtually

Fiona on “Uighur Exiles Push for Court Case Accusing China of Genocide

Janine Shum on “Nagasaki Urges Nuke Ban on 75th Anniversary of U.S. Atomic Bombing”

Katelyn on “Today’s Activism: Spontaneous, Leaderless, but Not Without Aim

Katharine Turcke on “Boys Are Boys and Girls Are Girls’: Idaho Is First State to Bar Some Transgender Athletes

Liz on “In Poland, the Rainbow Flag Is Wrapped Up in a Broader Culture War

Moses on “Aunt Jemima Is Gone. Can We Finally End All Racist Branding?

Nadia on “Trump Encourages Racist Conspiracy Theory About Kamala Harris

Ryan on “I Won’t Return to the Classroom, and You Shouldn’t Ask Me To