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Special Edition: 2019 Writing Contest Winners – Part 2

Welcome to another special summer edition of the Magnum Opus newsletter! We just love sharing the work of these brave and talented students who took the plunge and submitted pieces for our 2019 Writing Contest. The following pieces are our second and third place winners in Levels A, B, and C.  

As we approach the school year, we are preparing a new group of student samples to share with you. Our August e-newsletter will feature pieces from Units 1–2 for a great start to your year of writing with Structure and Style®.

Please continue to encourage your students to submit their favorite pieces. It may end up featured on our website or in a future edition of our newsletter!

Enjoy your summer!

Danielle Olander

Second Place

LEVEL A

Healing Hope
By Rhamie Ashley-Smith

Usually war destroys and destructs, but Ada shows us hope in the middle of devastation and gain in the midst of loss. In Kimberly Brubaker Bradley’s book The War that Saved My Life and the sequel, The War I Finally Won, Ada and her little brother, Jamie, are evacuated from a one-room dirty flat in the poor part of London to a posh country home because of the war being waged by Hitler. In London, the children had lived with their abusive and neglectful Mam; in the country, they are placed with Susan, a woman who is mourning the death of her closest friend. Susan never wanted children. As the story unfolds, we see Ada learn to trust, to love, and most importantly, to learn that she has value. This transformation is mirrored in Susan’s heart as she learns similar lessons. Growing from indifference to fiercely loving and protecting the children in her care, she realizes her feelings of not fitting in were coming from within and not from others and finally learns that she also possesses talents that are of value and appreciated by others. This alternately heartbreaking and heartwarming story stirred emotions of joy, anger, despair, and triumphant victory! Listening to the audiobook version, read by Jane Entwistle, added depth and feeling to the story with her fantastic narration. The characters were so real! When the first book ended, I burst into tears, not because of how it ended, but just because it was over. The story of Ada is like a bright little flower blooming in the crack of an endless gray walkway. Ultimately, the power of hope and love go a long way in healing.

LEVEL B

A Compelling Compassion
By Bryson Douglas

Compassion is concern for the misfortune of others. Although I was born with lack of compassion shown to me, I truly believe God, my loving Father, has a plan for me. My favorite Bible verse is Jeremiah 29:11, which reads, “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you, and not to harm you, plans to give you a hope and a future.” I have always been drawn to this verse because it shows God’s overwhelming compassion for me.

When I was only one year old, I entered foster care for the first time. Because my parents were drug addicts, they were not able to take care of me, my little brother, and two older sisters. We were allowed to return to live with my Mom and my wicked stepdad when I was three, which was a horrible mistake. He abused us severely.

Since we were not in a safe environment, we were sadly placed back in foster care. This began a journey down a very scary road, which was traumatic for my siblings and me. We were not in any one home for long before being moved to another. Being forced to move from home to home made me extremely fearful.

As if things were not bad enough, unfortunately, my siblings and I were separated. My brother, who was my brutal stepdad’s biological son, was moved to his biological grandmother’s home. My sisters were allowed to stay together in foster care. I was now alone and overwhelmed with fear and loneliness.

One again I was in a new home, unpacking all of my belongings from one large plastic bag. Although I did not expect to be there very long, something was certainly different this time. The difference, which astonished me, was the genuine care and concern that was being shown to me. This was my tenth placement. Although I didn’t know it at the time, this would become my forever home.

My experience of being repeatedly moved created within me compassion for the homeless. One time my Mom and I were driving down the road, and I saw a homeless man who looked as if he had not eaten in days. I pleaded with my Mom to stop and get him some food and water. She did so, and he joyfully accepted our generous gift. The compassion I felt for him compelled me to pray for him and other homeless people.

Although compassion is expressing love and concern for others, for me it was expressed in unconditional love by my parents. They lovingly adopted me, which made me part of a family. So, what compassion means to me is love, safety, family, and a forever home. Because such compassion was shown to me, I am now compelled to show compassion toward others.

LEVEL C

The Importance of Compassion
By Sophia Conti

Compassion is the ability to feel sympathy for another’s struggle and to have a desire to help. Compassion is inarguably important. It is vital to any relationship if one wishes for it to last. In fact, our society as a whole would be a lot worse off without the ability to understand and care for others. While the dictionary definition is good for a broad understanding of what compassion is, it is the responsibility of individuals to determine what compassion means to them. To me, the act of compassion is a fundamental expression of humanity and hope for the future.

The world today is a scary place. It seems that almost every day there is another headline reporting on another mass shooting or act of violence against a group of people. How could anyone think that compassion is intrinsic to humanity with such hatred in the world? However, what the newspapers do not report on nearly enough is the hundreds if not thousands of people who come to the aid of those in need. After many of these horrible acts of hate is an overwhelming wave of support and compassion from those who may not have even been personally affected. Donations of money, food, clothes, and volunteer efforts are sent from all over the world to support the survivors and families of those affected. In some cases, legislation is put in place to try and prevent violent attacks from happening again.

It is not just large-scale incidents that matter either. Small acts of compassion occur every day. I have had a friend buy a snack for me after I had not eaten all day, and my group of friends invited a new student to join us for lunch. I have also seen others helping one another, picking up dropped papers or returning lost cash. These small acts of compassion matter more than they seem. They prove that it is not just major crises that bring people together, but even day to day struggles that we all face. It is indicative of our fundamental inclination for compassion. These simple acts of kindness add up. Even the smallest acts of kindness can improve someone’s day or even her life. The new student we invited to sit with us now has a group of supportive friends willing to help her through a difficult time in her life. These little acts of compassion make life better for everyone and move us one step closer to a brighter, happier future.

It is too often we focus on the negative. By recognizing these small acts of compassion, we can see the world for what it really is. What at face value seems like a cruel and unforgiving world can really be a place of love and compassion; you just need to look in the right places. These acts of compassion, big or small, improve our world.

Third Place

LEVEL A

Impressive Creatures of the Deep
By Daniel Horlings

What is swift? What is stealthy? Chomp – it’s a shark! Sharks by National Geographic is my favorite book. I love reading about these amazing creatures, and I would like to tell you why I love reading their story. Sharks have 5 rows of teeth. They are constantly losing and growing new teeth, and one shark can use more than 10,000 teeth in its lifetime! Some shark teeth, like those of the great white shark, have razor sharp edges for ripping and tearing flesh open. Other sharks like the lemon shark have teeth with gripping edges for holding on to slippery fish. Nurse sharks possess flat teeth that are used for grinding. I find it fascinating reading about the different kinds of teeth God created for each kind of shark.

Sharks live in all of the earth’s oceans. Sharks were even around before the dinosaurs! Megalodon sharks were prehistoric creatures, who are now extinct. They could grow as large as ten school buses! Their primary prey was giant whales. My book has a picture of a megalodon tooth and a model of a megalodon jaw. One tooth is as large as an adult hand, and the jaw is large enough for three people to stand in! Unfortunately, the megalodon shark is now extinct. 

Sharks do not have bones because they have cartilage. Cartilage is light, strong, and rubbery. The tip of your nose and your ears are made of cartilage. Isn’t it crazy that we have something in common with sharks? A shark is technically a fish but is unlike any other type of fish. Shark babies are called pups. Some pups can grow inside their mothers, which is how humans grow. Other sharks develop outside the mother in sacks called mermaid purses.

Regrettably, most people are fearful of sharks. Shark attacks can happen and are extremely frightening. However, shark attacks are incredibly rare. In fact, people are a bigger danger to sharks than they are to us. Sadly, many sharks are trapped and killed in nets. Other sharks are unluckily killed on purpose, which is leading to many kinds of sharks becoming extinct. Sharks are necessary for our oceans, and from studying them, I have come to appreciate them much more. Sharks are majestic, mesmerizing, and grand creatures. I love reading about these impressive creatures of the sea.

LEVEL B

What Really is Compassion?
By Hannah Moore

Compassion. It’s light, in this cold, dark, heartless world. It’s a light that allows us to see clearly in the dark, but once it flickers, it’s harder to see … then once it goes out, no one can see. No one can see which way to go. Compassion. It’s the world’s heartbeat. It keeps pounding on and on and on, but it could stop at any second, and this world would be a dead place—and so would our hearts. Compassion. It’s the lost lamb. And no matter what, we should do anything to find it, even if it means to cross into unfamiliar territory and leave everything behind to find it. Compassion. It’s a flower; once it blooms, amazing things can happen, and it feeds others, but just like everything else in this world, it can die, and if it’s feeding others … then they could die too. Without compassion, this world would be dead. Our hearts and our souls would feel empty. We can’t let compassion die.

According to Webster’s Dictionary and Thesaurus, compassion is “a fellow feeling, or sorrow for the sufferings of another.” This statement is true, yet false. Compassion should come from a person’s heart out of kindness, out of love. You should not only show compassion because you feel inclined to do so. Show compassion because you can. It’s YOUR choice. Don’t let others influence your decision. You show compassion because you feel the need in your heart to do this, not because your mind feels inclined to because of what others might think. Dalai Lama XIV once said, “Love and compassion are necessities, not luxuries. Without them, humanity cannot survive.” It took me a minute to truly understand the meanings of these words. Love and compassion. If we don’t have them, then this world would be full of hate, full of pain. Our human race would never survive without these two. We never realize it, but they are necessities. Love and compassion. If we were never loved or never loved others, if we were never kind to others or kind to ourselves, and no one was ever kind to you, what kind of a world would that be?

Another definition of compassion is “inclined to pity or mercy.” Inclined. That’s a strong word. You feel willing to do something to please others or please yourself. You feel as if you have to have pity or have to have mercy. You should want to have this. I looked up a child’s definition for the word compassion, and it said, “the desire to help someone in need.” The DESIRE. That is the best definition of the word compassion I could possibly find. The desire to help someone in need. I thought about the letters of the word compassion, and I could easily make an acrostic poem out of its letters, each one pertaining  to the word. “C” meaning caring. Care for others; have selflessness before pride. “O” meaning open-hearted. Keep your heart open to compassion and kindness; accept and give. “M” meaning motivate. Motivate yourself towards compassion, and most of all, motivate others towards it as well. “P” meaning pray. Pray for help; there’s no way we can reach compassion on our own. “A” meaning alert. Be alert and aware of those around you. “S” meaning strong. The world may tease or mock, but as long as they see you strong, others will follow. Another “S” meaning stand up. Stand up for what is good and what’s right. “I” meaning infinite. Have infinite love and compassion. Another “O” meaning overcome. Overcome your fear or overcome an obstacle. Last, but not least, “N” meaning nice. Nice  – it’s a small, simple word with a big, deep meaning. C-O-M-P-A-S-S-I-O-N. One of the hardest things to give and one of the easiest to receive.

Don’t be afraid to do or say something. Compassion comes in great or small, but even the littlest things can change a life. It’s easy to be friends with someone if you’ve talked to them for a while, but why not talk to a lonely person? Help someone carry something – someone elderly, young, or who just needs help. Why not help out with chores outdoors or indoors? There is always something to do; the least you can do is speak up and ask. Bigger things don’t always mean better. You could give money to charity, homeless people, or the Santas around Christmastime. Anything can be compassion.

Just remember, “When we give cheerfully and accept gratefully, everyone is blessed.” – Maya Angelou

LEVEL C

Compassion: What Is It?
By Michelle Li

To understand compassion, we must first understand what empathy and altruism are since there is plenty of overlap between these two traits. Empathy is the visceral response to another person’s feelings, for example, when you begin to tear up when you see someone else cry. It’s happened to most of us. On the other hand, altruism is an action that benefits others, for example, volunteering at a homeless shelter. You may feel empathetic towards a situation but won’t take action to actually fix it, or you may not feel empathetic towards a situation but decide to help anyway. Neither situation is wrong, and they both occur daily. However, compassion consists of both empathy and altruism. It’s the emotional response to a situation and involves an authentic desire to try and help.

There are plenty of tearjerking stories of people showing compassion even as enemies. During World War II, Charles Brown, an American pilot, was attacked by over a dozen German fighters and was on the verge of crashing. Franz Stigler, a German pilot, noticed Brown and flew up to examine the situation. Seeing the broken soldiers, Stigler felt compassion and flew near Brown’s plane in formation so they could avoid being attacked. Stigler flew Brown and his crew over the coast until they reached open water and were safe. This story is a remarkable example of genuine compassion for one each other even as enemies in war. While this story is extremely heartwarming and moving, less obvious acts of compassion are displayed throughout our daily lives. Actions that seem as subtle as holding the door for someone else can be considered as an act of compassion.

Compassion is an innate trait that is essential to human survival. It’s a trait that differentiates humans from animals. However, before anyone can truly show compassion to others, one must first show compassion to oneself. It’s easier to show compassion to others, but if you aren’t compassionate to yourself first, how can you be compassionate to others? We live in a society where we constantly seem to be comparing our lives to others. She gets better grades. He has a nicer car. They’re in a happy relationship. It’s easy for us to downplay our own lives and make it seem like we’re worse than others. In reality, that’s not the case. If we keep looking at our own lives in such a self-loathing, judgmental way, how can we show acts of kindness and love to others? Compassion is a multi-layered trait that requires many precautions for one to genuinely be compassionate. The start to being genuinely compassionate and finding fulfillment in it is to become less judgmental toward your own life and to love yourself.
The second layer to compassion is understanding its relationship to suffering and freedom. While compassion and suffering may seem to be polar opposites, they go hand in hand. 

The Dalai Lama once defined compassion as being the “wish that oneself and others be free from suffering.” I agree. Compassion is just the desire to remove the suffering from yourself and those around you. While no one wants to bear all the suffering of those around them, I believe compassion wishes to simply bear and shoulder the pain. While ideally there would be no suffering in the world, this is just an ideal scenario. In reality, suffering occurs around the world in our daily lives as well. In these cases, the most we can to do is to show compassion and do whatever we can to make the lives of those suffering just a bit better. Compassion is wishing that those around you will be free of their suffering. Compassion breaks down barriers and connects people around the world together. Compassion is being able to ignore all labels, being able to ignore race, religion, gender, any label at all, to join together fighting for the same cause. For example in my personal life, the father of an extremely close friend of mine has recently been diagnosed with ALS. He can’t walk or talk or even eat without help. Their family has gone through extreme turmoil financially because of all his treatments and since they only have one source of income. Their family set up a GoFundMe to try to relieve a portion of this financial turmoil. My entire community including myself all joined together and raised over one hundred thousand dollars for their family. While this money can’t cure my friend’s father, thousands of strangers from all backgrounds, cultures, and races gathered together to reach out to help this one family. Witnessing this campaign, I felt moved and can’t imagine what my friend and her family felt. The power of compassion is indescribable and benefits the victims and those around them. Even simply reading remarkable stories about compassion is moving for me and encourages me to reach out to others in need.

While compassion seems to be extremely complicated, it’s really not. It should come naturally to everyone since it’s an innate trait everyone has. Compassion is a trait that can’t be defined since it’s different for everyone, depending on their background and upbringing. However, compassion for me is genuinely wanting to help those in need with the mindset of changing their lives for the better.

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