Young writers put fears aside to write This I Believe

Let me start off by saying, the thought of writing this 700-word piece somewhat scares me. Yep, that is right, it scares me. Both our son and daughter are excellent creative writers. Surely it is a trait they inherited from their father. My most recent writing to date has been composing a few thank you notes for various Christmas gifts, and I haven't quite finished those yet.

Words and thoughts flow easily through my head, but never transfer quite as eloquently to paper. I get tangled up with the need for perfection and thus end up giving up. Let me just say that if any of these young This I Believe writers share my fear, it wasn't in the least bit evident.

Three years ago, I joined the Sunrise Rotary Club of Springfield. Our weekly Wednesday morning meetings invite speakers from throughout the community to share their thoughts, expertise and wisdom on a variety of topics. I learned about such topics as horse therapy, Route 66 landmarks, the importance of adding micro greens to my diet, philanthropy, the Kidzeum of Health and Science, owning and running a small business during COVID, the World War II Memorial, and even the importance of chalk.

In addition to the above, Sunrise Rotary has partnered with NPR Illinois and the This I Believe project. This project invites high school seniors to write a statement of personal belief. There are few limitations to the essays, beyond a limit of 350-500 words. They can be about almost any subject matter that addresses their belief.

Remember my opening paragraph that expressed my fear of writing? These young writers put their fears aside, if in fact they had any, and wrote powerful, moving, informative, intimate, at times funny, at times gut-wrenching, honest essays. Their beliefs are bold, creative, diverse and perhaps even similar. We adults need to listen to these beliefs, even if our own view is different.

These young authors have the ability to fill pages with suck-you-in topics. Let me share just a few with you. They write about: dreams, acceptance, diversity, abandonment, music, living life to the fullest, instinct, tolerance, doing the right thing, death and family.

There are 10 judges from throughout the community given the challenging task of taking 175 essays that have been divided among teams of two. Each judge narrows their list down to five top choices, from which will be selected 10 winners.

I chose to read each essay a minimum of three times. There were times that three reviews were more than enough. I had two essays in my initial pile that I knew after just one read, would end up in my final list of five.

I won't reveal the essay or topic, but one piece had me choked up with emotion. It was an exceptional piece of writing. I can't begin to describe the depth and emotion this high school senior conveyed in a few hundred words. I have continued to think about this essay for the past few days. The content has stayed with me and I have read it more times than I care to mention.

I could go on and on. I hope my enthusiasm is contagious. I believe that we have extraordinary teachers who are encouraging and challenging students to share their beliefs in extraordinary ways.

There were 175 essays submitted to NPR Illinois. These essays come from different communities, high schools, backgrounds and genders. Ten of these essays are chosen as finalists, and each of these selected essayists will receive a $500 scholarship for their This I Believe piece.

Essays air on NPR Illinois 91.9: Feb. 15-19 and Feb. 22-26 at 7:45 a.m. and 4:45 p.m. There will be a culminating event on March 18 at 5:30 p.m. on Zoom. For further event information go to: www.nprillinois.org

When you read or listen to these essays you won't be disappointed. They will have an impact on you. For This I Believe.

Liz Murer of Springfield is an active community volunteer, The Outlet tutor and Sunrise Rotary board member. She is passionate about youth and education.

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