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Special Edition: 2019 Writing Contest Winners

Dear Readers,

Welcome to a special edition of the Magnum Opus newsletter. We just love sharing the work of the brave and talented students who took the plunge and submitted pieces for our 2019 Writing Contest. The contest was open to all students ages 8–18, whether or not they had experience with IEW. Students were asked to write an essay answering the following questions.

  • Level A – What is one of your favorite books and why? (1–3 paragraphs)
  • Levels B and C – What does it mean to you to show compassion to others? (4–7 paragraphs)

We hope you enjoy reading the winning pieces and encourage your students to participate in our next contest!   

Danielle Olander
Managing Editor

LEVEL A WINNERS

 FIRST PLACE

My Favorite Book is The Story of Robert Bruce
by Hudson Eberhart, Age 8

The Story of Robert Bruce is my favorite book because he fought battles to establish a free and independent Scotland. Robert the Bruce, King of Scots, was born in 1274 in Scotland and died in 1329. Bravely, three men, among others, volunteered their armies. These men were Andrew Murray, William Wallace, and Edward Bruce. The people who fought against Robert were Edward I of England, Edward II of England, and the Earl of Gloucester. The English fought against Robert the Bruce because they wanted Scotland to be under their rule. However, Robert the Bruce intensely opposed English rule in Scotland, so they fiercely fought the Scottish independence wars.

I read this book multiple times because of my love of Scotland. In fact, we purchased this book at a charity shop in Scotland. I learned that it was extremely hard to fight for Scottish independence. I like the book since Robert the Bruce is my personal hero for his efforts to secure a free Scotland. Even though he faced many struggles, he was consistently resolute, which modeled perseverance in what you believe. It also reminded me of the large castles with battlements and tall defensive walls which we were blessed to visit. Finally, the fierce battles show the sacrifice and cost of freedom. Whenever I think about Scotland’s history, I think of the English being driven out of Scotland, the battle of Bannockburn, and the difficulty to become king. I would recommend this book to others because I believe they would like the history in the book. Robert, King of Scots, bravely fought for Scottish freedom, and because of this, The Story of Robert Bruce is my favorite book.

SECOND PLACE

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.

THIRD PLACE

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 WINNERS

FIRST PLACE

Double Blessing
By Katie Enoch, Age 13

Dirty feet. Ripped clothes. Sickness. Hunger. These are all examples that can stir someone to feel compassion, and these are all things I see right outside the gate of my home. I am a missionary kid, and I live in Kijabe, Kenya, just an hour away from the largest slum in Africa. In the local hospital, patients are kept in public wards with about twelve in each room. Staying is expensive, and if patients can’t pay their fees, they aren’t allowed to leave and their debt increases. Kids with clothes torn and shoes so worn out they are barely wearable are seen running around the streets, playing with empty soda bottles and trash that is discarded on the sides of the road. When I witness these things, it drives my thoughts to the simple question, What can I do about it?  To me, showing compassion is being able to recognize that person’s pain. And to, whether you know the individual or not, love that person and do something, anything, to maybe make that person smile and help them feel uplifted. Some ways I show compassion to the people in my community are to practice acts of kindness, to ask them how they are doing and listen to what they have to share, and to be encouraging in the minor things. You never know when something as simple as opening a door with a smile for a stranger could impact someone.

The first and most obvious way to show compassion and love for someone is to practice acts of kindness. Sometimes we will visit the local hospital in the children’s ward, pray for the patients and their parents, and then give them a hard candy. We travel from room to room and visit each bed in each room and pray for whatever might be wrong with the patient. Then, after we pray, we give them a card with a verse on it and a candy to whomever we prayed for. After we have prayed for all the sick kids, we pray for the staff and give cards and candies to them also. That might not seem like very much, but that might be the only visitor these kids get the entire time they’re away from home and even something as minute as a candy and a friendly smile can cheer them up. 

Another way I show compassion is to ask how others are doing and listen to their responses. When I greet someone, I not only ask how they personally are doing, but also how their family is doing. Then, the next time I see that person, I can follow up with questions regarding the events they told me the last time I visited them. This may seem like a miniscule way to be loving to another, but the minor things really let them know you care. If you follow up on what you had already been told about a certain occurrence, it shows that you were listening to the conversation. This also demonstrates that you were not just pretending to pay attention and that you cared enough to come back and ask if there had been any developments or resolutions. Another thing I do in a conversation with someone is to ask questions and not interrupt. When you ask questions, it communicates that you’re not only listening but that you’re also involved in what the person has to tell you. It’s important not to interrupt because it’s rude and communicates to the individual that you don’t really care what they are in the middle of sharing, but you just want to get in what you want to say right at that moment. When you listen, you show people that you care about them and you want to know what they have to share. Being attentive is just as important and loving to people as acts of kindness, only in a different way. 

Another way to be compassionate towards others is to make an effort to be encouraging in the minor things in life. If you see someone sitting alone, away from the group, all you need to do to be loving is to walk over and sit by that person; you don’t even have to say anything, just sit. Then they know that at least someone notices them and cares enough to disengage with the more popular group and come to keep them company. Sharing a smile, opening a door, or giving a simple greeting are all things that can show people you care. 

In my opinion, to show compassion to others is to recognize the pain of another and to do anything in your power to uplift that person. Performing acts of kindness, asking people how they’re getting along and listening to what they have to share, and being loving and intentional in the minor things are all ways I show compassion in my community. In the end, it’s important to realize that the world doesn’t revolve around you and that you aren’t the only one with struggles. If you can help others with theirs, yours seem to diminish. Then showing compassion becomes a double blessing.

SECOND PLACE

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.

THIRD PLACE

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 WINNERS

FIRST PLACE

Kindness Equals Courage
By Seraphina West, Age 18

Compassion. It’s a word we throw around a lot, but there are few of us who actually put it into practice on a daily basis. We go through life as though we’re scared to show others our soft side, afraid of looking ridiculous. In consequence, so many opportunities to show compassion to others—close friends to complete strangers—pass us by. Showing compassion is not only kindness, but courage. It is not only great acts that will be remembered, but small acts that will be forgotten. It is not only compassion, but a calling. 

Compassion is courage. To reach out to someone—someone you barely know or someone you’ve known your whole life—when they’re really hurting, to share their pain with them, is to be vulnerable. It’s scary. Perhaps this is why so many of us would prefer to be compassionate in less personal ways: donating money to charity, texting friends who are going through a hard time rather than calling or talking in person, using “Band-Aid phrases” like “I’m sorry about what happened” and “I really hope it’ll work out,” because we’re uncomfortable. I’ve definitely been there. Sometimes, it seems like being compassionate takes more courage than I can possibly muster. Compassion takes guts. It takes a willingness to open your heart, to show yourself, to sacrifice personal pleasures to benefit another. It’s hard. Maybe that is why it’s so wonderful. 

Compassion is not just for the impressive things, but the simple ones as well. I could donate all of my money and worldly possessions to charity, and that would be compassion. But no one needs to become a possessionless hermit to show compassion. Showing compassion can be as simple as helping out a single mom with her groceries, helping someone change a tire, or taking the time to write a poem for your grandmother. This is another beauty about showing compassion—how simple it is. To stand in someone else’s shoes, to see their struggle and act on love—is this not something we all would want someone else to do for us? It takes nothing but courage to reach out and make a difference—even in the smallest ways. Simple acts of kindness we do today could have lasting repercussions for tomorrow. 

Compassion is not just about being a good person. It’s about love. It’s about sharing the love inside me with a barren, hurting world. As a Christian, I feel that compassion is not just something “nice people” do—it’s also a calling. It’s a calling to give, and give generously, to reflect the love that Jesus showed to me, to reach out to a world crying out for hope. It means so much to me to be able to give back, in part, the love that I have received. 

Compassion is not only something to strive for—it is integral to us as human beings. Compassion takes courage. It takes a commitment to love in large things and in small. It takes an outpouring of the spirit: receivers of love becoming givers of love. We must take a chance, do things, small and large, in love. We must have the courage to have compassion.

Compassion is not just about being a good person. It’s about love. It’s about sharing the love inside me with a barren, hurting world. As a Christian, I feel that compassion is not just something “nice people” do—it’s also a calling. It’s a calling to give, and give generously, to reflect the love that Jesus showed to me, to reach out to a world crying out for hope. It means so much to me to be able to give back, in part, the love that I have received. 

Compassion is not only something to strive for—it is integral to us as human beings. Compassion takes courage. It takes a commitment to love in large things and in small. It takes an outpouring of the spirit: receivers of love becoming givers of love. We must take a chance, do things, small and large, in love. We must have the courage to have compassion.

SECOND PLACE

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

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.