While sophomore Anne Dreyfuss read through her essay, “Smiling Through the Odds,” which described her mother’s battle with cancer, she fought back tears as her mother sat in the audience just 20 feet away.
Anne was a first-place winner in the Westfield High School Local Heroes Essay Contest and was among eight winners honored last Thursday in the school library.
One by one, the students stood up and read from their essays.
“This year the students were more vulnerable than I’ve ever seen,” said Mona Morris, the organizer of the contest and a 9th grade English teacher at Westfield High.
THE ESSAY CONTEST, open to any student in Westfield High School, required entrants to write up to 1,000 words on a person in their life local to the Westfield community that they perceived as a hero. A panel of seven judges composed of people with ties and interests in Westfield read 185 essays before selecting eight — a winner and a runner-up from each grade — for awards.
Thursday’s reception brought together not only the student winners and their heroes but parents, grandparents, friends, and other loved ones. Principal Dale Rumberger, teachers, and administrators also attended.
Samantha Prater, the 10th grade runner-up, wrote, “He Was My Savior,” an essay dealing with the separation of her parents and her depression, and the friend — her hero — that helped her through both. As Prater read through her essay, she also struggled to hold back the emotions she wrote about.
“It was good for her to sit and write this,” said Jennifer Prater, Samantha’s mother. “But reading it was the hard part.”
11TH GRADE WINNER Karen Woolley brought a different sort of emotion to the ceremony. Woolley began the reading of her essay, “The Unforeseen Hero” with a, “Ready, set, go!” and proceeded to tell with animation the story of Philippe Tondereau, a student at Westfield High who though completely unprepared, volunteered to run in a national relay after one of Westfield’s relay runners became injured.
“The variety of heroes impressed me the most,” said Morris. “Students wrote about their peers. We’ve rarely had that in the past.”
“This is a neat thing, an admirable thing,” said Jennifer Prater. “All schools should do this.”