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Vienna Optimist Club Awards High School Essay Winners

The Optimist Club of Greater Vienna awarded cash prizes to its essay contest winners (from left) Diba Ghanei, Gabriela D. Garcia and Sylvie Dufort, missing from photo. Marshall High School career counselor Garnder Humphreys accepted Dufort’s award. Back row, club president Walt Petersen, essay chair Barbara McHale and Madison High School career counselor Lynn Otto.

The Optimist Club of Greater Vienna awarded cash prizes to its essay contest winners (from left) Diba Ghanei, Gabriela D. Garcia and Sylvie Dufort, missing from photo. Marshall High School career counselor Garnder Humphreys accepted Dufort’s award. Back row, club president Walt Petersen, essay chair Barbara McHale and Madison High School career counselor Lynn Otto. Photo by Donna Manz.

The Optimist Club of Greater Vienna awarded $600 to three local high school students at its Feb. 15 dinner meeting. The students were winners of the annual Optimists International essay contest, "How My Positive Outlook Benefits My Community."

George C. Marshall High School sophomore Sylvie Dufort, honored as first-place winner for her essay on optimism for her native country’s future - that of Haiti – was awarded $300. Second-place winner Gabriela D. Garcia of James Madison High School was awarded $200, and third-place winner Diba Ghanei, also of Madison, received a $100 check.

Marshall career counselor, Gardner Humphreys, read Dufort’s essay and accepted the check and framed certificate on behalf of Dufort who was at a Marshall event she had previously committed to. Garcia and Ghanei read their essays to the club members and took home framed certificates, as well as award checks.

"I know that, one day, Haiti will change for the better."

— Sylvie Dufort, Marshall High, Essay Contest Winner

DUFORT, as first-place winner, goes on to the capital-area competition where the top prize is $2,500.

Committee chairperson Barbara McHale, who has chaired the essay committee for 19 years, presented the winners and their awards.

Every year, on the first Sunday of the new year, Dufort’s family in Haiti hosts a dinner for about 300 impoverished children, and it is these memories that instill Dufort with optimism that benefits others. She sees the beauty of her native Haiti and back in the Vienna-area, she shares her culture with classmates, doing presentations and bringing in to school Haitian food for sampling.

In 2010, after the Haiti earthquake, her family served 400 children. It’s only one meal a year, Dufort said, but it gives them hope. "Hope still exists," said Dufort in her essay, dotted with French terms. "I know that, one day, Haiti will change for the better."

Garcia, in her essay, gave examples of perspective, looking at things from the point of view of others. It has saved friendships, and given her new-found understanding, she said.

Ghanei, an Iranian-American, spoke on the impact of words. After 9/11, she was judged by peers and strangers, called a "terrorist." She talked about a teacher, still working at her high school, who referred to another Middle Eastern student as a terrorist. Words, Ghanei said, do have impact. She said she refuses to allow herself to be ruled by the cruelty of others, and, looking beyond their "caustic" words inspires her optimism.

OPTIMISTS Mark Goldberg, Kathryn McHale and Anna Ryjak judged the essay competition.

Dufort, who will read her essay to club members at a future meeting, goes on to the next level of competition.

Optimists International calls itself "friend of youth." Its signature campaign is raising funds on behalf of children with cancer. Each chapter creates its own fundraising programs and designates its own recipient(s). During the year, the Optimists of Greater Vienna also hold an oratorical contest and a communication contest for children who are deaf or hard-of-hearing. The Vienna club sponsors the Vienna Farmers’ Market, and maintains the red caboose on Dominion Road.

To learn more about the Optimist Club of Greater Vienna, go to http://www.optimistclubofgreatervienna.org/