We’re pleased to announce the winners of The Nation‘s fifth annual Student Writing Contest.
This year we asked students to send us an original, unpublished, 800-word essay detailing how their education has been compromised by budget cuts and tuition hikes. We received hundreds of submissions from high school and college students in forty-four states. We chose one college and one high school winner and ten finalists total. The winners are Amanda Lewan of Michigan State University and Melissa Parnagian of Old Bridge High School in New Jersey. The winners receive a cash award of $1,000 and the finalists, $200 each. All receive Nation subscriptions. Many thanks to the IF Stone Investigative Fund at the Nation Institute for its generosity in making this contest possible. — The Editors
I will never forget watching my father get ready for work in the morning when I was a little boy. I would stand in the doorway to the bathroom, my shoulder leaning against the jam like a little cowboy about to enter a saloon, and watch him as he brushed his teeth, dragged a razor across his face and sprayed his hair with strong-smelling stuff from a blue bottle (this was back when he had actually had hair). He then would deftly button his shirt with one hand, much to my amusement, before tying on one of his faithful paisley ties. My father was a banker, a man who wore wingtips and a suit, and on the surface he seemed to be a successful man. In fact, he was a successful man. But he was not happy doing what he did day in and day out, and I remember him telling me to be sure to pursue what I was most passionate about in life. He always told me that. His message grew clearer in my mind when I watched him lose his job after his bank was bought out by a larger bank, and the days of his wingtips and suits ended and were replaced by a long financial drought that pushed my mother to get any type of work that she could and my father nearly to despondency as he applied over and over again to job after job.
My father never was able to find a job that was as lucrative as the position he lost. The executive world is not kind to the older generation. I never had more respect for him in my life, though, as I did as I watched him do what it took to put food on our table, collecting paychecks from retail jobs that he excelled in, as his natural talents and abilities showed through everywhere that he worked. My mother worked as a receptionist at a health club, as a babysitter and as a tutor, doing whatever she could as well to help provide for me and my siblings. Through this time I still would hear my father remind us to pursue what we are passionate about so that our working lives could be fulfilling and enjoyable. He wanted us to be satisfied in our work and not just to work for the sake of a paycheck.
My passion has always been to write. I was not quite sure exactly where this passion would lead, of course, as my desire slowly evolved from a vague sense of knowing that this is something I love to a strong desire to teach writing and spread my enthusiasm for it. But to teach requires an education of one’s own. As I approached college age I remember seeing friends of mine who had more money move away to college and get the full college experience. I wished that I could go too, but the prices of the schools were completely prohibitive. I knew that my parents were simply nowhere near being able to afford to send me to school, and that their primary contribution was to provide a roof over my head. As I began to research my options, I was dumbfounded as I saw that the only school that I could come close to affording was a small, local technical college. It was then that I began to be struck by how sad it is that colleges and universities, public as well as private, are so expensive. I know that there are countless students, like myself, who desire to further themselves and receive an education that will help them achieve their dreams and spread their passions. But first, like an unavoidable roadblock, is the necessity of an education that has rapidly transformed from being a ladder to success to a one-way trip to debt. School loans have been unavoidable for me and for many of my classmates and friends. They seem to have become as normal a part of receiving an education as buying books.
The rising cost of school has certainly changed what should be an exciting time into a very stressful time. I can no longer judge a potential school by its program and its merit but by the size of its financial aid package and the price of tuition. I am pursuing my dream to attend graduate school and one day teach, but it seems that pursuing a goal has become a luxury that is getting more expensive all the time.