Reflections on Our Summer Reading Contest and Our Week 10 Winners

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Reflections on Our Summer Reading Contest and Our Week 10 Winners

All summer long teenagers told us about the Times articles, Opinion pieces, videos, photos and podcasts that got their attention, and all summer long we celebrated our favorite responses.

We heard, of course, about the big headlines of the summer, like the Women’s World Cup, the protests in Hong Kong, the migrant detention centers, and the mass shootings in Dayton, Ohio, and El Paso. But we also heard about thousands of other topics The Times has covered recently, from hummingbirds to social media influencers, celery juice, androgynous fashion, racism, vegan kimchi, a math equation, President Trump, K-pop, vaping, Serena Williams, climate change and mental health.

We received more than 10,600 submissions from around the world all told, many of them so notably thoughtful, original and interesting that we agonized each week to crown just one winner. In fact, for this final week we gave up and chose two. Congratulations to Louise Dorisca, who wrote about The 1619 Project, and Cody Busch-Weiss, who wrote about the em dash. Together, they show the wide range of topics and writing styles typical of the submissions we received all 10 weeks.

Our judges came from both the Times newsroom and the business side of the company, and we asked them to reflect on what they noticed as they read. Here is what a few of them had to say:

Alexandria Symonds, a senior staff editor who most recently wrote an explainer about the Amazon rainforest fires:

I was struck while reading students’ responses to Times journalism by how impassioned they are, and by how — even while arguing opposite sides of an issue — their perspectives so often boiled down to simply wanting to live in a better, freer, kinder or more equal world.

Elda Cantú, a deputy editor for The New York Times en Español:

It is extremely heartbreaking and just a little surprising to see that so many students responded to stories on mental health. But the fact that their comments showed empathy toward others and the ability to write articulately around these issues is nonetheless encouraging. It’s evidence that perhaps these young readers are learning a vocabulary to better listen to their peers, ask for help and heal themselves.

Also, the breadth of interests and points of view is a reminder of the diversity of experiences of young people, who too often are grouped together just by virtue of their age.

Pia Peterson, a photo assistant at The New York Times Magazine who recently worked on The 1619 Project:

One of the things I love about judging the Summer Reading Contest is feeling like I’m learning about what teenagers are thinking about. We can’t read your minds, but sometimes we’re curious! I think a lot about the girl that shared in one submission, “My phone and I are really close. I share everything with it and it never tells a soul.” The way that you’re growing up now is so different from how I grew up. It’s a different experience and there’s so much value in sharing your thoughts on it.

Ms. Peterson also shared some advice for students that can take you beyond The New York Times:

I love thinking that today’s students are gaining an interest in the world or expanding their knowledge base on certain topics by reading these articles. I would always encourage them to read more. The Times’s reporting is incredible, but it’s not the end all be all. If you’re interested in an article, Google the topic. Google the author. Read around. Get a book on the subject. Go to protests. Talk to experts. Talk to your grandparents, if you’re lucky enough to have them around. There’s always more to learn!

If you liked participating in this contest, check back in June of 2020, since it’ll be back then for an 11th 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.