- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Friendliness and forgiveness are the path to happiness and success, according to winning essays by D.C. public school students who participated in a citywide contest.

“Everyone has a bad-attitude button,” wrote sixth-grader Susan Lin. “The important lesson to learn in life is that, with a little thinking, we can all learn to turn it off.”

Susan, a student at Thomson Elementary School in Northwest, won first place among elementary school students in the 20th annual “Celebration of Youth” essay contest.

The top six finishers in the elementary school and junior high school categories and 25 who received honorable mentions were presented with checks and certificates yesterday at a ceremony at the Charles Sumner School in Northwest.

Lisa Femia, a ninth-grader at Alice Deal Junior High School in Northwest, won first place among junior high school students for an essay in which she described herself as an arrogant camp counselor until a little girl named Elena was hurt by her anger.

Lisa wrote that she began changing her attitude. When she returned to camp after a week off for an injured knee, Elena sent her “an ice cream” and greeted her with a hug.

“I was so glad that little kids didn’t hold grudges, because otherwise I would have been hated,” Lisa wrote. “If everyone could just have a good and caring attitude, then maybe, just maybe, we could all get along.”

Winners were awarded $350 for first place, $300 for second place, $250 for third place, $225 for fourth place, $200 for fifth place and $100 for honorable mention.

The contest was sponsored by Global Harmony Through Personal Excellence Inc., a District-based nonprofit that supports the “expression and humanity of children.” It was open to D.C. public school students from fourth to ninth grade.

Jim Brady, who with his wife, Dorothea, manages the annual contest, said 350 children entered this year.

“I always enjoy reading the essays,” Mr. Brady said. “This year, I was impressed that the little things can change everything.”

Essay winners received letters of praise from President Bush, former Vice President Al Gore, D.C. Mayor Adrian M. Fenty and D.C. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, among others.

Some essayists wrote of experiences of living in foreign countries.

The third-place winner among elementary school students, Kristina M. McGraw of Francis Scott Key Elementary School in Northwest, described living in one room with six boys and two girls in a Siberian orphanage in Tomsk, Russia. She came to the United States in 2002 when she was 6 and initially didn’t want to go to school.

“I love my teachers and they have helped me stop hugging so hard, but I haven’t stopped hugging altogether; I love giving hugs to people that are kind to me,” Kristina wrote.

The parents of the second-place winner in the elementary school category, Catherine Tanner of J.F. Oyster Bilingual Elementary School in Northwest, once lived in the Darfur region of Sudan, and she learned about armed gang attacks on children there.

Catherine wrote of her love for soccer. She also wrote that she started collecting money in a jar, including $1 in the Tanner home whenever someone used a swear word.

“I soon had a huge amount of money in my jar,” she wrote. “I now have enough money to buy several balls and will hopefully send them to Darfur soon. I hope that I’m contributing to goodness in the world one step at a time — one soccer ball and one happy little boy or girl in Darfur at a time.”

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