February 23, 2014

The Grumpy Side of 60... She couldn’t stop crying

If somebody told you create an essay on some kind of theme or just a word or two… and you only had 20 minutes to write it, could you do it? I mean really do it? I’ve been writing for more than half a century; I know I could come up with something, but would it be quality?

Probably not. Not unless I hit it by pot luck.

So you might have some idea how I felt when two other judges and I read 78 essays in three and a half hours – written by 26 seventh and eighth grade students – on themes, or as they are called in the Power of the Pen competition, prompts. Allotted time for each? Twenty minutes. Each essay one of us felt was a potential “Best of the Best” had to be read and agreed upon by all three judges.

Some students struggled, most did better than I could have, but there were that select few who cracked you up with their humor or had you fighting back tears.

Think about a girl beating out a boy by eating 50 hot dogs compared to his 49 in a contest… afterwards he approaches her and says, “would it be weird if I asked you to go get a bite to eat?” Then there’s the father who mercilessly beats his daughter. The family pet decides “no more” and attacks. This proves fatal to the father; the dog turns to his mistress only to discover he’s too late. He is the only living creature in the room. The kids writing these essays are 12 and 13 years old.

I’m not allowed by POP rules to give you the exact “prompts” but you can fill in the blanks for yourself. Both essays were Best of Round winners. Thirteen judges for each grade read and graded three rounds of essays for each student, then sent the best of each of those rounds to us; hence the “Best of Round” judging. Our job was to choose the best essay out of each round; three each for seventh and eighth grade. These are the best of the best from the efforts of several hundred kids.

It’s a fascinating adventure into the minds and writing skills of our young people. I’ve been doing it for about six years.

I’ve read essays that could only have come from experience, in one case involving a child hiding from her abuser. The details and imagery went far beyond simple imagination. I’ve read essays using the “paint brushes” of words to build pictures in the reader’s mind. I’ve often had to wrestle with three, sometimes four, “Best of the Best” in one round, knowing only one can be chosen.

Call it the coward’s way out but more often than not I’ve been thankful the final decision wasn’t mine alone.

As trophies and ribbons were handed out it was fun watching the expressions of the kids. There were students who stood happily in front of the crowd. It was like they belonged there. There were others who showed surprise, or gratitude… some a little bewildered at their success.

Then there was the young lady who couldn’t stop crying.

I saw it coming when she accepted her “Best of the Best” award… it was in full force by the time she got back to her teammates. Fortunately they were sitting on the floor; not sure she’d have made it into the stands.

“I’ve got to stop crying,” she said. Then she’d start crying again.

As we were leaving for the day I happened to walk past her. She looked at me and said, “Thank you!!”

I stopped, grinned and said, “Nothing to thank me for. You earned it.”

I think she started crying again.

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