- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 14, 2003

Sam Shindell of Northwest wants to spend his time doing simple things to improve society. A sophomore at Woodrow Wilson Senior High School in Northwest, Sam, 15, recently won first place in a “Lord of the Rings” essay contest, answering the question: “What would you like to accomplish with the time given to you?”

“It’s important to give back to the community, at least as much as you take from it,” he says. “Everyone should volunteer. There are many places to help, like homeless shelters and hospitals.”

Tied to the release of “The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King” on Wednesday, Turning the Page, a nonprofit organization in Northwest that works to ensure that District students receive a high-quality education, and New Line Cinema recently sponsored the writing competition. Similar competitions took place in New York, Chicago and San Francisco.

Students from about 10 District schools entered 200-word essays based on a quote from the character Gandalf in the first movie of the trilogy, “The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring.” In the film, hobbit Frodo Baggins, a lead character in the movie developed from author J.R.R. Tolkien’s masterpiece, tells the good wizard Gandalf that he wishes he had not been born at that point in history.

Frodo feels overwhelmed by the task confronting him — the quest to destroy the One Ring of Power — and wishes he had never come in contact with the dreadful item. Gandalf tells the young hobbit that individuals never choose the obstacles that face them. Gandalf says, “But that is not for you to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us.”

During the announcement of the essay winners on Dec. 3 at Loews Cineplex Odeon Cinema in Northwest, District Mayor Anthony A. Williams emphasized the importance of being a good steward of the gift of time, especially as students face the dilemma of how to live meaningful lives.

Mr. Williams congratulated Sam and shook hands with the other 11 winners: Tiairra Jackson of Southeast, Tiffany Hawkins of Northwest, Tannia Owens of Southeast, Katrina Makins of Northeast, Chevez Scott of Southeast, Mikel Smith Jr. of Southeast, Lawrencia Atakora of Northwest, Derrell Lipscomb of Southeast, Okezie Nwoka of Northwest, Justin Williams of Southeast, and Victor Quintanilla of Northwest.

“You only have a limited amount of time,” Mr. Williams said. “You have to maximize it. You can’t take anything for granted. None of us is guaranteed a certain amount of time.”

Local judges rated the essays written by approximately 375 students. Then the staff of Turning the Page chose the finalists, two students per grade in grades six through 10 and one student each in grades 11 and 12. The finalists received “Lord of the Rings” fleece jackets, T-shirts, hats and posters.

As the overall winner, Sam was given a private showing of “The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King” for 100 friends. Philippa Boyens, a screenwriter for the film, chose his essay from among the 12 finalists. She says she’s pleased the film caused the students to consider important issues.

“Films have got to mean something,” she says. “They have to challenge you and make you think, especially if you want to involve the audience in the story. … It’s easy to be glib as a writer. It’s much harder to be real.”

Among the other winning essayists, Katrina Makins, 12, wrote about helping people feel beautiful. She is a seventh-grade student at Merritt Educational Center in Northeast and aims to become a hairstylist. She is inspired by her sister, Kellie, 21, who works in the industry.

“I work with my sister on weekends,” Katrina says. “I help her do people’s hair. She shows me how to do their hair, and I finish braiding it for her. … It’s something to keep me out of trouble.”

Another finalist, Derrell Lipscomb, a ninth-grader at Thurgood Marshall Academy Public Charter High School in Southeast, wrote about wanting to attend Yale University. After graduating from college, he would like to start his own video-game company.

“I want to be rich, but only to give my kids and family everything they need and to help society,” he says. “On the way to school, I’ll see drug addicts and people smoking. I want to help get them out of that habit and into a better life.”

Derrell, 14, also wants to travel around the world and visit places such as Paris, Rome and London. If he finds a stable society, he wants to study its ways of living and apply them to problems in the United States. He is inspired by Frodo’s perseverance in the films.

“Although it seems like evil is going to win, even if you have a little bit of hope, good will always win,” he says. “Never give up hope.”

Learning multiple languages is a goal for Victor Quintanilla. As a 12th-grade student at Marriott Hospitality Public Charter School in Northeast, he aims to attend college and graduate with majors in journalism and business.

“I don’t want to have somebody else communicate for me,” he says. “I want to communicate for myself. … I want to see people’s backgrounds, where they come from and why they act the way they act. It will make me appreciate what I have.”

Tiffany Hawkins, 11, would like to help keep others accountable. As a sixth-grade student at Bruce-Monroe Elementary School in Northwest, she dreams of becoming a judge. She wants to discourage people from blindly following the crowd.

“They think they’re going to fit in, but they are just following along with someone else’s bad decisions,” she says. “Laws help the state, but most people really don’t follow them. I would like to help make sure people follow the laws.”

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