MAY 8, 2014 / Legacy Project / – When 13-year-old Michelle Jiang asked her grandfather Rulin Jin, 80, how he turned his life around, he talked about the debt he owes a teacher who cared. Jiang is the National Grand Prize-winner in this year's Listen to a Life Essay Contest. Thousands of students across the country gained valuable life insights as they interviewed grandparents and grandfriends for the Legacy Project's 14th annual contest. Jiang wins the Grand Prize of a Lenovo ThinkCentre computer, a keepsake timepiece from Expressions of Time, and a framed award certificate courtesy of Frame USA.
Jiang is a grade 7 student at Rice Middle School in Plano, TX. Her English teacher, Lorinda Beekmann, had all the Honors students interview an older adult in the community as part of a Journeys & Passages unit.
"So many students, teachers, and parents tell us they discover cool things they never knew about people they thought they knew well," says Legacy Project Chair Susan V. Bosak, who heads the judging committee.
Jiang learned that her grandfather failed his college entry exams twice, and was about to give up and get a job in a factory. But an old teacher reached out. At first, Jiang's grandfather turned the offer of help down, saying that he couldn't afford it. But his teacher only smiled and replied, "The success of a student is the largest payoff a teacher can receive."
From California to New York, essays ranged from serious to playful, from inspiring to moving. To enter the Listen to a Life Contest, students 8-18 years interview a grandparent or grandfriend 50 years or older about the older person's hopes and goals through their life, how they achieved their goals and overcame obstacles, or key life experiences. The young person then writes a 300-word essay based on the interview.
Ten runner-up winners in the contest receive a keepsake timepiece from Expressions of Time, based in St. Louis.
The oldest person interviewed was Maria Kittrell, 98, of Maryland, who shared her harrowing tale of surviving the historic sinking of the RMS Lusitania when she was a child. Writes 14-year-old Yomna Nassar, Maria "could hear the pleading moans of those floating around the ocean, trying to buy a few more minutes of their life."
Kavya Chaturvedi, 14, interviewed 87-year-old John W. Barfield of Michigan to discover how he overcame segregation in 1930s Alabama to run a business with over $2 billion in client contracts because his entire life he believed he was entitled to "his fair share."
Angel Nagy, 9, from Ohio learned more about her 63-year-old grandmother Donna Nagy and her job as a hairdresser. "Her comb and shears are the doorway to other people and their lives. She brings them into her chair and listens to their stories. She gives advice and reassuring smiles."
And in our fast-paced, high-tech culture, Flora Arnsberger, 12, was reminded about the importance of books by
Linda Pucci, 74, of North Carolina. Linda's advice is simple: "Take some time to appreciate a good book. To all kids now, that means step away from that computer and visit your library. Your life will thank you later."
"Generations are a living time perspective," says Bosak. "This contest gives young people and older adults the motivation to talk meaningfully with each other. They travel time together, as the old reminisce and the young look toward their future."
The next Listen to a Life Contest begins September 7, national Grandparents Day. The annual contest is run by the Legacy Project, a big-picture learning project that offers parents and teachers ideas and activities for building closer relationships across generations. Generations United in Washington, DC, partners with the Legacy Project on the contest to reach children, youth, and older adults across the US.
To find out more and read all the winning essays, visit www.legacyproject.org.